Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 15, Issue 1–2, pp 153–163 | Cite as

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

  • Melanie Smee
  • Wesley Smyth
  • Mark Tunmore
  • Richard ffrench-Constant
  • Dave Hodgson
Original Paper


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 dynamics Adaptive management Conservation Monitoring Habitat fragmentation Stock grazing 



Many thanks go to a multitude of helpers in the field; R. Hobson, M. Davey, M. Easter, H. Silver, P. Brown and C. Berry. Also to Natural England, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and all landowners allowing access to land. The habitat management and monitoring schemes were part funded by the EU LIFE Nature Programme. M.S., R.f–C. and D.J.H are funded by BBSRC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie Smee
    • 1
  • Wesley Smyth
    • 2
  • Mark Tunmore
    • 3
  • Richard ffrench-Constant
    • 1
  • Dave Hodgson
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterPenryn, CornwallUK
  2. 2.Natural EnglandTruro, CornwallUK
  3. 3.Trewhella CottageHelston, CornwallUK

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