Over the last few years conservationists have been tracking the dramatic decline of monarch butterflies in the USA. This year saw a 44% decline from 2012 in Monarchs overwintering in Mexicos forests, a decline so steep it is being described as a phenomenon. Looking at the longer picture, the monarch butterfly population has actually dropped a staggering 90 per cent. There is sadly nothing unusual about a species population dropping that low nowadays, however what makes the monarch butterflies decline interesting is that it was once so abundant across the United States it was almost a symbolic icon of many backyards. Across the Atlantic our native butterflies aren’t faring much better. Three Quarters of UK butterflies have declined over a 10 year period, some of them drastically so. Once again the decline is not just limited to the rarer species but some of our garden favourites are in real trouble as well. To make matters worse the August of 2014 did not look like it would allow much of a reprieve to our butterflies. Although the coldest August in 20 years curtailed the flight period of some species and induced early hibernation in others, it was not all doom and gloom this year.
The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly has suffered a population decrease of 78% since the 1970’s, becoming scarce in parts of Southern England. However whilst experts were busy trying to figure out why this species was enduring such a dramatic decline, the species as actually started to reverse this decline. Its populations increased by 232% in 2013 on the summer of 2012 and once again this year despite the weather it increased by 22%.
Whether or not butterflies will continue to decline globally or species will start to stage comebacks remains to be seen. But for now the future looks bleak. Lets hope that the decline of the Monarch butterfly in the United States may foreshadow the future for many other common pollinators.
Butterfly Conservation, Small Totoiseshell Fights Back. (2014), [online] available at: http://butterfly-conservation.org/48-6762/small-tortoiseshell-fights-back.html
Butterfly Conservation, State of Britains Butterflies. (2014), [online] available at: http://butterfly-conservation.org/1643/the-state-of-britains-butterflies.html
Morgan Erickson-Davis, ‘Canary in the cornfield': monarch butterfly may get threatened species status. (2014), [online] Available at: http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0908-morgan-monarch-esa.html
Patrick Barkham, Tortoiseshell butterfly fights back despite “August Autumn”. (2014), [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/15/tortoiseshell-butterfly-fights-back-big-butterfly-count
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