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Quarries may be last chance for many rare European butterflies

While European environmentalists see quarries as scars in the Earth, these industrial operations may actually play a critical role in preserving rare species. New research shows that quarries provide the only suitable habitat for at-risk butterflies in some places, suggesting that current policies of filling in old quarries are misguided.

"Increasing evidence is revealing the counterproductivity of such practices," say Jiri Benes, Pavel Kepka and Martin Konvicka, all of the University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, in the August issue of Conservation Biology.

Throughout Europe, butterflies that depend on warm, dry areas have declined because many of the steppe-like grasslands that provide this habitat have been lost to intensified agriculture, conifer plantations and urbanization. Two of the researchers (Benes and Konvicka) have been butterfly enthusiasts since childhood and noticed as high school students that many steppe grassland species were essentially found only in quarries in the Czech Republic's Moravian Gate, one of Europe's most important north-south migration corridors. Thus, the researchers were concerned that these butterflies would be further threatened by the Czech Republic's policy of reclaiming old quarries, which usually means covering them with topsoil and planting trees.

To see if quarries can help compensate for the loss of steppe habitat in Europe, Benes and his colleagues surveyed the diversity and abundance of butterflies in 21 limestone quarries in the Moravian lowlands. The researchers surveyed the butterflies in four habitat types: recently excavated rock, sparsely vegetated, herbaceous plants, and trees and shrubs.

The researchers found that quarries serve as refuges for two groups of butterflies that depend on steppe-like habitats. The first group comprises 20 species, nine of which are threatened in the Czech Republic, that thrive in active quarries because they prefer habitats
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Contact: Jiri Benes
Benes.J@post.cz
0042-38-7772251
Society for Conservation Biology
23-Jul-2003


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