Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 153–163

Butterflies on the brink: habitat requirements for declining populations of the marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) in SW England


  • Melanie Smee
    • Centre for Ecology and Conservation, BiosciencesUniversity of Exeter
  • Wesley Smyth
    • Natural England
  • Mark Tunmore
    • Trewhella Cottage
  • Richard ffrench-Constant
    • Centre for Ecology and Conservation, BiosciencesUniversity of Exeter
    • Centre for Ecology and Conservation, BiosciencesUniversity of Exeter
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10841-010-9334-y

Cite this article as:
Smee, M., Smyth, W., Tunmore, M. et al. J Insect Conserv (2011) 15: 153. doi:10.1007/s10841-010-9334-y


1. The marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia is one of our most endangered butterflies, and the only to be protected under European legislation as well as British. It persists in fragile subpopulations threatened by habitat fragmentation and degradation. 2. A combination of swaling and cattle grazing are accepted to be best practice for managing wet, unimproved grasslands—the favoured habitat for E. aurinia in Cornwall. These two well-endorsed methods of management were used to increase and improve the quality of habitat for E. aurinia over a 5 years period, 2004–2008, at a stronghold network of habitat patches in mid Cornwall, south-west England. 3. Analyses of adult and larval densities over 5 years in fifty-four transects across nine sites found E. aurinia to favour habitat patches with higher densities of the larval food plant (Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis), higher sward height in autumn, and intermediate optimum levels of stock grazing. 4. Main findings indicated most sites experienced significant declines in numbers. Unfavourable weather in the last 2 years of monitoring was likely to have had a significant impact on the response of individual subpopulations to habitat management though poor recovery rates may also reflect a time-lag in colonisation events after habitat improvement has occurred. 5. Habitat management produced an improvement, albeit an inconsistent improvement in habitat variables across patches—S. pratensis shows a clear recovery at some sites. Autumn sward height increased significantly at one site, and a quadratic relationship between stock grazing and important habitat variables has been found which will aid further improvement over all sites for the long term persistence of E. aurinia.


Metapopulation dynamicsAdaptive managementConservationMonitoringHabitat fragmentationStock grazing

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010