2024: Mosel’s Apollo crowned as Butterfly of the Year!

In 2024, the charming Mosel region has crowned the Apollo Butterfly as its Butterfly of the Year! This magnificent insect has captured the hearts of locals and visitors alike with its vibrant beauty and captivating charm. Choosing the apollo for Butterfly of the Year, a decision which was also influenced by nature conservation organisations such as BUND NRW, has a worrying background: In the Mosel region, pesticides are still used that send apollo population down a dark path.

The Mosel wine region in Germany is not only renowned for its picturesque landscapes and world-class wines but also for the unique ecosystem that thrives there. However, this delicate balance of nature is now under threat as the use of pesticides in the vineyards has begun to take a toll on the insects resident in the Mosel region, including the Parnassius apollo. The decrease of individuals in the Mosel region correlates with the use of pesticides in recent years. Pesticides are spread by helicopters and it is particularly noteworthy that at least the new substances used in recent times are applied without any nature conservation impact assessment.

The subpopulation of the Mosel region, namely Parnassius apollo ssp. vinningensis, only exists in this particular region. It differs slightly from apollo subspecies in the Alps, Sweden or from those found in Spain. Beyond its visual appeal, the Apollo Butterfly possesses an intriguing life cycle. The species is known for its preference for high-altitude habitats, making the Mosel region an ideal home if it were not for applied chemicals and pesticides.

The Apollo Butterfly’s recognition as Butterfly of the Year is a testament to its vibrant beauty and captivating charm. At the same time, however, it is a warning. Like in many other European regions as well as in Germany, the apollo population of the Mosel region is declining rapidly and is in great danger of extinction. Alternatives for harmful pesticides must be found if this beautiful butterfly should be protected. Moreover, it is essential to preserve the habitats that this species relies on. By protecting their preferred host plants and maintaining the natural balance of the ecosystem, the magnificent butterflies can thrive. In the Mosel region, visitors still flock to the area to witness the Apollo Butterfly in its natural habitat, with guided tours and educational programs providing an opportunity to learn more about this enchanting species. This might change in the future though if nothing is done right now.

The Apollo Butterfly’s striking appearance and graceful flight have also inspired artists and designers in the region. Their unique patterns and colors have been incorporated into various forms of art, from paintings to jewelry. Local festivals and events now celebrate the Apollo Butterfly, with dedicated butterfly-themed exhibitions and workshops. These festivities not only showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage but also raise awareness about the importance of preserving biodiversity and the delicate balance of nature.

As we celebrate the Apollo Butterfly being crowned as the Butterfly of the Year in 2024, we are reminded of the beauty and wonder that nature bestows upon us. We are also reminded of the harm humans can do to other creatures smaller and weaker than us if we do not realise that we are part of the natural ecosystem.

Partner Meeting in Austria

In June, the LIFE Apollo2020 project team gathered for a partner meeting, this time in Austria. The main goal of this event was visiting the habitats of the Apollo butterfly. In Austria, there are still some habitat sites where Parnassius apollo butterflies fly and its populations exist. 

Two entire days were spent for visiting the intact habitats, during which a few imagines were spotted. A lepidopterist (an expert specializes in studying butterflies) was present to guide the team around the sites. This meeting turned out to be very important since breeders from various countries came together to share their expertise.

Austria’s Apollo habitats provided an excellent example for the entire project team. For the success of the LIFE Apollo2020 project, it was very important to visit the sites bacause this allows a better and crucial understanding of functionality of existing habitats in other countries. Therefore, by observing where the Parnassius apollo likes to live, the selection of reintroduction sites will be much easier. 

The sites visited around Austria differ greatly and exhibit unique characteristics. Some are close to settlements, others close to train tracks and yet others are located on high mountains and steep rocks. The differences between the habitats are striking and incredibly interesting because they show that the Apollo is very well adaptable to many different environments as long as there is sun, stonecrops (Sedum sp.) for the caterpillars and nectarous plants for imagines. The project team was pleased to conduct this fruitful and interesting meeting while monitoring methods were discussed and exchanged between breeders and scientists. Acquired experience and knowledge will be used to improve the project.

Here are some photos of the various habitats and the magnificent Parnassius apollo itself.

New Breeding Farms Established

In recent months, a project breeding station has been built on the land of an organic farmer near the village of Blatnička in the foothills of the White Carpathians in the Czech Republic. The station was built by the project partner Bílé Karpaty Education and information centre and although some internal elements are still unfinished, it will serve as a home for the first few fertilised Apollo butterfly stations in the coming days. 

Another breeding farm was constructed in Uniemyśl, in the Stone Mountains in Poland by the project partner KP. The construction was finalised at the end of May, after the team had been using a portable breeding tent.

Breeding Farm for Plant Cultivation

So far, the interior of the breeding station has been used for the cultivation of the main food plant, which is the great stonecrop, as well as for the caterpillars of the Apollo butterfly. In the future it will possibly also be used for the cultivation of other food plants. Recently, we have also planted large stonecrop plants next to the breeding station itself, and we have sown two species of cornflowers adjacent to it, which will serve as nectarous plants for the adult butterflies. All plants (both food and nectarous plants) come from our own collections from the White Carpathians. In fact, some of the plants will be used to seed the case for planting at the project sites, and we make every effort to plant only genetically native plants in our project area.

Construction in progress

Breeding Farm in Poland

Breeding started in 2022 in a temporary portable tent. From the breeding farm in Karkonoski National Park we received 209 eggs, from which we eventually obtained 40 butterflies. We obtained 2866 eggs from our own breeding, from which we have about 1600 caterpillars in the current season. The permanent breeding tent was completed an the end of May. The structure of the building is wooden and refers to the body of the historic Field Station building. We moved the caterpillars to newly finished home. Soon the first pupae will appear, and later part of the tent will turn into an enclosure for butterflies.

In 2022, plant seedlings (mostly Cirsium genus) were obtained in the field. We have started establishing a base of nectariferous plants (host plants for imago) in the garden of the field station in Uniemyśl, as well as farming of Sedum maximum (host plant for caterpillars) in the Forestry Nursery of the Kamienna Góra Forest District in Krzeszów and in the garden of the Field Station in Uniemyśl. The resulting base will feed food plants to our breeding farm. The floor of the breeding tent is lined with humus. Inside and around the tent we will create a garden of nectar-producing plants and host plants for caterpillars.

Construction progress in Poland

Project Milestone

Since there is no water source near the breeding station, we use rainwater that falls on the roof of the breeding station for watering. The water is collected in a large 1000 l container. For the project’s progress, the breeding farms are very important. They are milestones that we have already reached. Now, the project has at least one breeding station in every country. 

Two Apollo Gardens built

Recently, an Apollo Garden was built in an Austrian secondary school. European Wilderness Society, one of the project partners, organised this activity and contributed to the construction itself. The school pupils were also very excited to join and help with the physical field work. Apollo gardens are part of our LIFE Apollo2020 project. They are special gardens containing food plants especially for the caterpillars, but also for the butterflies. 

Another garden was built recently by the lead partner KPN in Poland, in coordination with the project partner KP. In combination with that, KPN and KP also organised a lecture at the Nature Educational Centre to which local communities were invited. Some locals also stayed on for helping with the construction of the Apollo Garden and planting butterfly food plants. Some fun activities were also organised, like painting rocks and making seed cards. For that and for the Apollo Garden, a special mix of flowers was created by KPN and KP. In the course of the project, there will be built many more Apollo Gardens.

What is an Apollo Garden?

Apollo Gardens are an important element of the LIFE Apollo2020 project. They are specially created garden plots with food plants for the Parnassius apollo butterfly and caterpillar. Some of them will be built at schools but others are also going to be installed at other public spaces like national parks. In order to support the survival and recreation of Parnassius apollo, the gardens are built in suitable butterfly habitats or in the vicinity thereof. 

The most important plant for the apollo caterpillar is the sedum, which is of course also planted in the Apollo Garden. Sedum plants enjoy a rocky environment, so after planting them, we also added some rocks.

Building process

With the help of the active students, the Apollo Garden was quickly built – even in the scorching sun. We were quite satisfied with the work, and so were the students and the teacher as well as our external butterfly expert. 
In addition, to provide food for the butterflies we sowed some seeds for future Parnassius apollo (and other butterflies) to feed on.

Workshops conducted

Besides the Apollo Gardens, we also conducted some school workshops in Austria; the workshops focused on butterflies, including the Parnassius apollo. The students were very interested in learning about the important pollinators from our butterfly expert. They learned about the fascinating life cycle of the Parnassius apollo and how it transforms itself from egg to caterpillar to pupa to finally become the beautiful butterfly it is. Moreover, they discovered in which habitats and environments the apollo likes to live. To also create butterfly gardens at their homes, the students learned about the plants they should keep to make it more butterfly-friendly.

LIFE Apollo2020 goes BoB! 

What is BoB?

LIFE Apollo2020 will be presented at the Biology of Butterflies conference 2023 that takes place from 10th to 13th of July in Prague. The conference, organised every four years, gathers biologists who study evolutionary biology, behaviour, ecology, systematics, biogeography, genetics, developmental biology, and the conservation of moths and butterflies. 

Representing LIFE Apollo2020 at BoB

From LIFE Apollo2020 team, Tomasz Suchan from W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences, will present a poster about our project. As the project has a strong scientific aspect, including genetic analyses that support our aim of establishing permanent metapopulations in the areas of reintroduction, as well as creating a coherent species conservation approach and a Breeding and Conservation Manual, it fits perfectly into the theme of the BoB conference.

LIFE Apollo2020 is looking forward to being represented at the conference, exchanging information with other butterfly experts, and disseminating results the project has obtained so far. We look forward to establishing new valuable contacts with fellow scientists valuable to the LIFE Apollo2020 project!

For more information on the conference, click here.

Jak jasoň červenooký a další motýli reagují na změnu klimatu

Změna klimatu je jedna z největších výzev našeho století. Společně s destrukcí habitatů je hlavním hybatelem krize globální biologické rozmanitosti. Vyhynutí hrozí více druhům než kdykoli předtím. Mnohé studie ukazují, že motýli patří mezi druhy, které nejcitlivěji reagují na klimatické změny, obvykle v podobě posunu areálu výskytu směrem na sever nebo do vyšších poloh. Změna klimatu ovlivňuje jejich životní cykly, dobu letu, základní interakce a v tím pádem i přežití.

Jasoň červenooký je ukázkovým případem těchto problémů. Od první poloviny dvacátého století populace jasoně v několika evropských zemích poklesly a motýl se tak v těchto zemích stal vzácným nebo vyhynulým. Hlavní příčiny takového úbytku jsou antropické (zapříčiněné lidmi) a jde například nedostatečnou pastvu, znečištění, turistiku, sběr jedinců jasoně nebo ztrátu stanovišť. Zásadní roli však hraje citlivost druhů na změny stanovišť a změny klimatu.

Citlivá proměna

Motýli procházejí během svého života řadou rychlých a dramatických proměn. Tato metamorfóza je citlivá na klimatické změny, protože přechod z jedné fáze do druhé je synchronní s rytmem přírody a podobá se mnoha jiným přírodním cyklům. Mnoho motýlů má zvláštní citlivost na teplé prostředí. Mírné zvýšení teploty, které člověk nepostřehne, má pro motýly zásadní význam. To vyvolalo nové zákonitosti v procesu jejich metamorfózy a dokonce vyhnalo tyto tvory z jejich původního prostředí.

Jedním ze způsobů adaptace druhů je změna období v roce, kdy jsou aktivní. Takovému načasování událostí v životním cyklu se říká “fenologie”, takže když druhy začínají dříve v roce, říká se, že “postupují ve své fenologii”. Posuny byly do určité míry pozorovány u celé řady motýlů a můr.

Studie ukazují, že druhy s flexibilnějším životním cyklem mají větší pravděpodobnost, že budou mít prospěch z časnějšího nástupu začátku jejich životního cyklu způsobeného změnou klimatu. U některých druhů proběhne celý cyklus dvakrát nebo i vícekrát za rok, což způsobí nárust populace. Existují však i jiné druhy, které jsou méně flexibilní a mají jen jeden reprodukční cyklus za rok. Ćasnější začátek životního cyklu tak pro ně není žádným benefitem. Navíc druhy, které se specializují na jeden konkrétní typ stanoviště, jsou spíše poškozovány posunutou fenologií.

Motýli v pohybu

V důsledku oteplování klimatu se v současné době motýli původní v určité oblasti stěhují po celém světě. Opouštějí své domovy a odlétají do míst s nižšími teplotami. Dlouhé migrace s sebou nesou mnohá nebezpečí. Někdy znemožňují pohyb nejrůznější překážky na trase, což nás přivádí k roli člověka v životě motýlů. Fragmentace biotopů způsobená zástavbou v kombinaci se změnou klimatu ohrožuje přežití motýlů, protože je připravuje o zastávky, kde mohou bezpečně odpočívat a doplňovat energii.

Tato migrace je patrná zejména v horských oblastech. Studie ukazují výrazné a stálé posuny rozšíření motýlů ve východních Alpách směrem do vyšších nadmořských výšek. Vzhledem k tomu, že se tyto změny u jednotlivých druhů liší, mohou vést k závažným změnám společenstva s možnými dopady na vzájemné vztahy a konkurenci druhů. Obavy vyvolávají zvláště druhy s malou tendencí ke stěhování, protože obvykle zůstávají na jednom stanovišti po mnoho generací.

Populace jasoně červenookého jsou obecně malé a izolované a jejich rozšíření je omezeno na jednotlivá horská pásma. Globální změna klimatu mění strukturu jejich stanovišť a způsobuje, že se rostlinné druhy posouvají na horské vrcholy. To mění biotické interakce mezi hmyzem a rostlinami. Klimatické změny mají přímý vliv i na rozšíření druhů, kdy se výškové rozšíření druhů rodu Parnassius v horách posouvá směrem vzhůru. Pohoří jsou však konečná a i nejvyšší hory mají pro druhy rodu Parnassius ekologické a evoluční limity.

Ochrana jednoho druhu za účelem ochrany dalších druhů

S pokračující změnou klimatu se může stát, že s námi motýli nebudou moci žít. Kvůli našemu bezohlednému zacházení s jejich biotopy můžeme o tyto radostné a krásné tvory přijít. Ochrana motýlů před změnou klimatu je však důležitá nejen kvůli jejich kráse. Motýli totiž hrají důležitou roli v našich ekosystémech (ekosystém = ucelená část přírody). Jejich housenky spotřebovávají velké množství rostlin a slouží i jako potrava pro jiné druhy živočichů. Působí také jako opylovači celé řady rostlinných druhů. Úbytek motýlů může mít za následek nepředvídatelné kumulativní účinky na ostatní druhy v ekosystému.

Jasoň červenooký působí jako tzv. deštníkový druh (zastřešující druh) pro ochranu biologické rozmanitosti na úrovni ekosystémů a mozaiky stanovišť. Ochranou tohoto druhu jsou tak chráněny i další druhy a stanoviště, na nichž žijí.

The benefits of grazing for Apollo (Part 2)

By Vlado Vancura

This article is Part 2 of a series on the benefits of grazing for Apollo. You can read Part 1 here.

Forest and shrubs used to cover a much larger territory in Europe than they do today. Each part of Europe has its own history by which the forest was extensively logged and finally removed. In the case of the Carpathian mountains, this process began as early as the 14th century. It was a time when a growing density of human settlements in specific areas created pressure on the forest, with intensive logging that continued for centuries (Fred & Brommer, 2005).

This trend started to change in the last few decades, when large areas of forest were declared as protected areas. The tree line in particular became the subject of strict protection in many mountains in Europe. On top of that, large areas of the recently grazed land were abandoned, sheep were taken away and forest and shrubs spontaneously re-occupied the land. This process dramatically reduced the available habitat for Apollo, and still continues in some parts of Europe.

Active protection – grazing to stabilise the Apollo population

Like several other endangered species, the well-being of Apollo depends to a large extent on appropriate habitat and available food. Large areas which have been favourable for Apollo for several centuries are now more and more occupied by forest and shrubs. Maintaining the locality once inhabited by Apollo by removing trees and bushes have become important management activities.  

Removing the bush often creates appropriate conditions, particularly enlarging food-plant resources, for the larvae and butterflies. That activity can create fundamental conditions to support a stable Apollo population.There are arguments that maintaining the Apollo population means keeping and protecting the open landscape as much as possible. This is particularly important in the areas where fragments of the Apollo population have survived.

Grazing is a well-tested method to maintain open landscape and keep the pressure of trees and shrubs succession under the control. Well-managed grazing can significantly contribute to controlling the self-recovery of trees and shrubs and provide favourable habitat important for Apollo, as well as provide food, nutrition and other benefits to Apollo as well as livestock.

Carefully managed grazing is just one practical example of how to support the shrinking Apollo population. Long-term cooperation between nature conservationists and managers of grazing can even help to set up Apollo reintroduction projects and to try to breed completely new colonies of this butterfly. This activity can become an interesting example not only to implement sophisticated grazing methods but also to maintain and support the protection of Parnassius apollo.

The benefits of grazing for Parnassius apollo (Part 1)

By Vlado Vancura

This article is Part 1 of a series on the benefits of grazing for Apollo. Part 2 will be published next week.

Parnassius apollo is under threat. Populations of the butterfly species have dramatically decreased in the last couple of decades. There are countries with about a 20% decrease, but also some with a much more dramatic decline of around 50%. This very much depends on the geographical region.

The analysis provides evidence that the most fragile subspecies and forms of Apollo are those from a low altitude in East and Central Europe, while forms inhabiting the higher parts of the Alps and other, mostly south European, high mountain ranges are still relatively large and strong.

Disappearing habitats – Apollo requires open habitats

One hypothesis explaining these differences is that low-altitude areas in East and Central Europe have been heavily impacted by industrialization, new development and unprecedented intensification of agriculture in the last 20 years. A significant amount of habitat and food for Apollo disappeared.

Continuing on this hypothesis, we see that this kind of development was not so obvious 20 years ago in higher mountain areas. Open landscape developed by humans in previous centuries and maintained by grazing still provided fragments of suitable habitat for Apollo. This happened despite more and more massive abandonment of the traditionally grazed landscape (Fred & Brommer, 2005).

Since the Ice Age, shrinking steppe biotypes imposed selective pressure onto local Apollo populations due to a changing climate. That pressure resulted in the adaptation to new habitats, such as mountains, screes and meadows.

Gradually, Apollo shifted from a typical steppe into a mountain-steppe species. This occurred in the Alps and probably at the southern, calcareous slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, and resulted in the emergence of numerous forms and Apollo subspecies.

Current habitat of Apollo

As a steppe and mountain-subalpine-subboreal species, Apollo occupies  different habitats within its range. It is found in heaths, shrubs, various grasslands communities in lowland biotopes, and also in small clearings in forest. Among the most typical habitats, there are alpine and subalpine grasslands, dry calcareous grasslands and slopes in upland areas.

Open landscapes such as screes, rocky habitats high in the European mountain ranges such as Alps or Carpathians, are also suitable for Apollo. To maintain stable Apollo populations, the habitat must provide food-plant for the larvae, particularly the Sedum, Serpenvivum and Teleephium sp.

Nowadays, particular Apollo forms and subspecies occupy small areas, sometimes limited to single mountain massive or even hillside, as it was documented in the Alps and the Carpathians.

Parnassius apollo seems to be a quite adaptable species. History shows that it survived dramatic weather changes and even skills to adapt to these changes significantly. That provides hope that this species, with  l support and care for its habitat from us, can survive the coming years.

Happy New Year 2023: project recap

The highlight of the year was the project kick-off conference, which took place in September in Poland. Field experts shared their knowledge on the ecology and conservation of Parnassius apollo, and members of the consortium presented the project goals, as well as activities past and present.

The official project website was launched with several articles published on the butterfly and general activities since then. The website itself is available in the project languages of English, Czech, German and Polish. In November, LIFEApollo2020 released its first project newsletter to partners. If you want to stay up to date with project news, you can subscribe here.

Citizen science campaign

Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. Through citizen science, people can participate in many stages of the scientific process, from the design of the research question to data collection and volunteer mapping, data interpretation and analysis, and publication and dissemination of results.

The citizen science monitoring activities was launched by project partners in different countries by using the iNaturilist app and data from local nature protection NGOs.

Conference 2022

The memorable event of 2022 is the Kick-off conference of the LIFE Apollo2020 project. It kept what the name promised: an excellent mix of presentations and lively discussions on the topics of “Science, ecology and innovation for Parnassius apollo conservation in Central Europe”. Around 100 people gathered on-site in Jelenia Góra, in the beautiful building of Karkonosze National Park to discuss, learn, and exchange. Even more people participated online and watched the livestream of the conference on the first day.

Breeding activities

The breeding activities started in Poland. As well the breeding certification had been issued in all countries represented in the project. The plan of breeding activities was finalized, so thousands of caterpillars are going to be released in 2023.

The LIFE Apollo2020 project is thankful to everyone who was supporting and keeping in touch with the project during this year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Apollo – A traffic stopper

The clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne), cousin of Parnassius apollo, is also threatened by habitat loss in Europe.

Once widespread across the state of Baden-Württemberg in Southern Germany, it is now only found in two valleys in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Swabian Jura. In one of these remaining strongholds, the Mühltal valley near Münsingen and Schelklingen, authorities closed district 7410 road between the two towns for a week of major habitat management.

Supporting measures

The clouded Apollo exclusively lays its eggs on Corydalis plants, on which the hatched caterpillars feed. The Biosphere reserve has undertaken research and habitat management measures for Parnassius mnemosyne for 8 years. After research on potential habitat for the butterfly in the Mühltal, experts found that Corydalis was very common around the 7410.By cutting back the plants, they are hoping to create ideal conditions for the clouded Apollo along the busy stretch of road. Similar activities in nearby Springen have yielded great results, with just two butterflies growing to a population of 153 in a few years.

These activities will not only support clouded Apollo conservation. Species such as the southern white admiral and the pearl-bordered fritillary will also benefit from these measures. At the slight inconvenience of prolonging car travel for a week, several butterfly species will have an increased chance of survival in the area. If more local or national authorities made decisions that put species conservation first, we would save many more butterfly species.

Picture: Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

#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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