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How too much care kills species: Grassland reserves, agri-environmental schemes and extinction of Colias myrmidone (Lepidoptera: Pieridae) from its former stronghold

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Abstract

We describe a rapid extirpation of a strong population of globally threatened butterfly, Colias myrmidone, from the White Carpathians, Czech Republic. The area is renowned for a high plant and insect diversity associated with savannah-like Carpathian meadows, traditionally managed by mowing once a year and subsequent autumn grazing. Although many meadows fell victim to land consolidation schemes in the 1970s and 1980s, over 2000 hectares have been preserved in a dense network of reserves. The reserve management practised since the mid-1990s has consisted of uniform machine mowing of entire areas and this was further accelerated after accession of the Czech Republic to the EU, when agri-environmental schemes (AES) required two cuts per year. This starkly conflicted with the life history of C. myrmidone, because both spring and autumn cuts interfere with larval development. Despite intensive surveys, only five and then two C. myrmidone individuals were seen in the area in 2005 and 2006, respectively, rendering the species effectively extinct. Conservation authorities failed by neglecting early warning signals issued by amateur entomologists, and by ignoring the basic tenets of conservation of insect diversity, such as the need to maintain heterogeneity of resources. Unless AES provide for this crucial aspect of habitat suitability for invertebrates, they may turn from a great hope into a massive failure.

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Acknowledgements

The information presented here would not exist without several hundreds of recorders participating in Czech butterfly recording. Particular thanks J. Uricar for organising the detailed survey of the White Carpathians, and to J. Holomek, M. Hrouzek, A. Pavlicko, P. Snajdara, V. Tomecek and M. Zapletal for sharing their observations regarding C. myrmidone. H. Höttinger, Z. Varga and H. Kalivoda discussed with us the current situation in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. M. Dolek invited us to a Myrmidone discussion group, through which we connected with colleagues from across Europe interested in conservation of the butterfly. Matthew Sweney corrected the English. Funding was provided by the Czech Department of the Environment (VaV/620/1/03, 620/2/03 and 620/12/03), the Czech Academy of Sciences (600070601) and the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (206/03/H034).

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Konvicka, M., Benes, J., Cizek, O. et al. How too much care kills species: Grassland reserves, agri-environmental schemes and extinction of Colias myrmidone (Lepidoptera: Pieridae) from its former stronghold. J Insect Conserv 12, 519–525 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-007-9092-7

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