Protecting threatened insects in Europe

21 October 2013 | News story

Insects react rapidly to changes in land use and climate because of their generally short life cycles and, in many cases, their dependency on other species. For species which directly depend on one another, a change in one species can have a severe impact on the other.  

In order to understand species vulnerability to land use and climate change, the CLIMIT project (CLimate change impacts on Insects and their MITigation) funded by BiodivERsA has assessed the impacts of human-induced changes in climate and habitat on some of Europe’s most specialized and threatened, ant-dependent grassland butterflies.

The main results indicate that when protected area management takes into account the adaptive needs of species, sites can support much bigger populations than usual. Moreover, the restoration and enhancement of patches of degraded ecosystems is an effective long-term tool in conserving the studied insects, as these patches work as stepping stones promoting butterflies' dispersal. The results suggest that in the northern European ranges of the studied insects, altering land management can help address the effects of modest climate warming. Specific conservation measures could then help improve the status of some species by allowing them time to adapt to environmental changes, and to maintain or progress towards favourable conservation status. 

The below diagram by the CLIMIT project shows the abundance of the Large Blue butterfly in the UK and reflects the population increase between 2009 and 2012 thanks to the application of an adaptive management approach. 

Adaptive management measures can contribute significantly to reaching the targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and fulfill the obligations in the EU Habitat Directive. It is therefore important that support and guidance on adaptive management is provided to national and local authorities as they implement Natura 2000 management plans. Practical guidance on applying adaptation measures for insects could be provided under the EU Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change.

Creating and restoring grassland patches enhances insect conservation. This type of landscape approach can be strengthened through the EU Strategy on Green Infrastructure and the 15% ecological restoration target. It is also important for the Common Agricultural Policy to enhance conservation management of non-intensively managed grasslands. Grassland habitats that benefit insect communities should form part of the quantified biodiversity targets to be integrated within national Rural Development Programmes.

Further research and intervention evaluation for adaptive management are also recommended to gain more knowledge on the ecological requirements of insect species.

Read more in the BiodivERsA Policy Brief Managing habitats for land use and climate change adaption. This Policy Brief was produced by IUCN on behalf of BiodivERsA and it is part of a series of briefs - see here.