The Austrian Alps are almost entirely encapsulated within the Austrian Alpine biogeographic region (except for one sub-site that lies within the Continental bioregion). They can be divided into three distinct regions: the Central Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps. The Northern Limestone Alps are located in Vorarlberg and along the German border through Upper and Lower Austria. The Southern Limestone Alps are located along the Slovenian and Italian borders with Austria. Contrary to the Northern and Southern Limestone Alps, the Central Alps is primarily composed of gneiss and slate, and also contains most of the Austrian glaciers. The majority of the Alps are covered in soil, while plant species diversity differs significantly depending on soil pH as well as altitude.
The Austrian Alps lie within a temperate climatic zone, while the mountainous region is characterised by a relatively humid snowy climate. Seasonal climatic fluctuations can cause changes from year to year. There can be a wet and cool climate from April and May or for example a mild and dry climate from March to May. Those fluctuations pose no danger to Apollo’s (sub)population. At the subsites, the average temperatures vary between -5 to +18 °C in spring and are warm and sunny with 9 to 26 °C in early summer.
Austria has about 1,300 glaciers and therefore also has a vast amount of larger and smaller Alpine lakes. The lakes are fed by countless rivers and streams, which are crucial for Alpine ecosystems. Larger rivers, such as the Lech, Inn, Mur and Salzach feed even larger rivers: the Danube and Rhine.
There are more than 3,000 plant species, which are often well-adapted to their habitat as they depend on specific topographical conditions. About half of the project area is forested, mainly by fir (Abies alba), larch (Larix decidua), spruce (Picea abies), pine (Pinus sylvestris), Swiss pine (Pinus cembra) and black pine (Pinus nigra). Deciduous forests below 600 m altitude occur, consisting mostly of beech (Fagus sylvatica). About 20% of all vascular plants can be found in the Alpine region. From valleys to mountain peaks, one comes across a gradient of diverse ecosystems with different plant species, which makes some areas very fragile and susceptible to anthropogenic changes. Especially relevant for the Apollo butterfly is the larval host plant Sedum album, which is decreasing due to the increase of shade and light reduction through increasing bush vegetation.
The Austrian Alps are home to more than 45,000 animal species. The biggest majority are invertebrates. Characteristic vertebrates in the Alpine region are the marmot (Marmota marmota), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), ibex (Capra ibex), mountain hare (Lepus timidus), and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Insect abundance and diversity have witnessed a rapid decline in recent years, largely because of the long-term effects of pollutants. Ensuring favourable conditions for umbrella insect species, like Parnassius apollo, is therefore important.
The importance of the area for species conservation
The project sites have been selected as they are areas with the highest priority for Parnassius apollo conservation in Austria. In those areas, the population of the Apollo butterfly has decreased and, in some of them, the Apollo has even disappeared. The population decrease in Austria within the last 25 years is 20-50%. The Apollo has been listed as “near threatened” on the Austrian Red List since 2005, yet subspecies are not listed separately. The most up-to-date Red Lists of the Austrian provinces state that the Apollo butterfly is “extinct” in Burgenland and Vienna, “heavily threatened” in Styria and Carinthia, “threatened” in Tyrol, Salzburg, and Upper Austria, and “near threatened” in Vorarlberg. In Lower Austria, Parnassius apollo is listed as “threatened” but the lowland populations went extinct. Thus, Lower Austria has the responsibility to protect the last Apollo lowland populations and habitats for Austria.
#followapollo and the efforts of our team! Combined skills in breeding, conservation of habitats, research, environmental education, and project management constitute a great combination for the success of our LIFE project
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