In the near future, butterflies in the People’s Republic of China are likely to be monitored using European monitoring methods.
Ecologists from several Chinese research institutions and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) laid the foundations for this cooperation recently. Experts from China, Germany, Australia and Israel met in Leipzig from 10 to 14 August to share their experiences in butterfly conservation and to intensify already existing research cooperations. The Workshop formed part of the German Chinese Year of Science and Education 2009/10 organised by the Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF).
Know-how developed at the UFZ is already being applied in Australia and Israel, where monitoring networks are being set up. In Germany the UFZ set up the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme five years ago together with the German Society for the Conservation of Butterflies and Moths (GfS). Since then, more than 500 volunteers have been counting and recording butterflies with a standardised method all over the country, providing the researchers with important data on distributions and trends of butterfly populations as well as information on land use and climate change in order to assess their impacts on these insects.
Butterfly monitoring originated in Britain, where butterflies have been counted since 1976. The idea has since spread to many other European countries. Activities throughout Europe are coordinated by the umbrella organisation “Butterfly Conservation Europe (BCE)”. Scientists from the UFZ were among those who established the BCE.
As butterflies are excellent indicators of the ecological condition of most terrestrial habitats, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research has been working with them for many years in the context of its biodiversity research focus. Butterflies play a central role in a large number of international projects and have enabled major advances to be made in the protection of species diversity in science and practice. Butterfly monitoring in Germany was a core theme at the first German-Chinese workshop on butterflies and moths last week.
Based on the experience gained by the UFZ, the possibility of setting up similar systems in selected regions in China was discussed. On a series of excursions the Chinese scientists were shown projects set up to protect endangered Large Blue butterflies and were given practical field demonstrations of the monitoring methods. The daily workshop activities have been described in reports and images in a dedicated blog in which the BMBF and UFZ introduce the people behind this initiative and attempt to portray the unique atmosphere of the workshop.
Since 1978 there are close links between Germany and China in the fields of Science and Technology. Today, German-Chinese research teams jointly participate in many international projects. In recent years bilateral universities and research institutions have been founded. To emphasis the significant role of german-chinese cooperations in education and research, the “German-Chinese Year of Science and Education 2009/2010” was initiated jointly by the German minister of education and research, Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan, the Chinese minister of science and technology, Prof. Dr. Wan Gang, and the Chinese minister of education, Prof. Dr. Zhou Ji. The UFZ-Workshop was part of this programme funded by BMBF.
However, Europe and, soon, China are not the only places where volunteers are being brought in to assist scientists with counting butterflies. In Australia a team of more than 50 people from universities, nature conservation authorities and environmental organisations has got together to collect data on a species of butterfly which faces extinction.
The team members systematically searched for the Golden Sun Moth (Synemon plana) in the Australian summer from September to April. This diurnal moth is critically endangered, as its habitat – the natural temperate grassland has shrunk to less than five per cent of its original size in recent decades. The larvae of the moth is thought to feed exclusively on Wallaby grass, an original grass species that has declined dramatically since the introduction of sheep farming by European settlers and urban expansion in Australia. This pilot project was presented at the German-Chinese workshop by Anett Richter from the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra and the UFZ. Ms Richter is coordinating the research in Australia and is currently writing her PhD on the impact of native grassland fragmentation on insect biodiversity in Australia.
Dr. Guy Pe’er of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) has been publicising the idea in his home country, Israel. As insects have not been protected before in Israel, the protection of 14 species of rare butterflies on 30 April 2009 has been a major coup. The Israeli Lepidopterologists’ Society hopes that this step will broaden public awareness of the protection of butterflies and consequently boost participation in the planned butterfly monitoring scheme.
The monitoring scheme is particularly important for studying the impacts of climate change both on butterflies and on fauna general. This is because Israel encompasses a sharp climatic gradient – with average rainfall ranging from over 1000 mm in the north to less than 30 mm in the south – and thus it serves as a major source of migratory butterflies and seasonal range-shifts in response to climatic triggers.
Additionally, with the East African Rift Valley crossing Israel, it is an important migratory route not only for birds but also for a variety of butterflies. The monitoring scheme therefore will have importance not only for nature conservation in Israel but also potentially worldwide for identifying links between range-shifts, migrations, and climate. Guy Pe'er also gave a talk on his work at the German-Chinese workshop.
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