The Sudetes area comprises the mountain ranges Karkonosze and Kamienne, both in Poland and Czechia.
Karkonosze is a compact mountain range from the foothills through ascending slopes to the characteristic plateaus and culminating at the peak of Śnieżka Mt. (1603 m asl). It is characterised by an abundance of terrain forms: plateaus, glacial-erosion cirques and niches, rock monadnocks, weathering cirques, stream valleys, gorges, and waterfalls. Granite rocks dominate in the western part, and metamorphic ones in the eastern part. The Kamienne Mountains are characterised by steep slopes and deep valleys. The area has a lot of rock formations and landslips. They extend from 500 m asl to the highest elevation of 842 m asl at Szeroka. From the point of view of P. apollo protection in the Karkonosze Mts., most important are the foothills and post-glacial cirques as a place for species development, while plateaus and meadow ecosystems are important migration routes to the south. A unique area is the Mały Śnieżny (Little Snowy) cirque, where there is the intrusion of basalt rock and an abundance of Rhodiola rosea, a host plant for Parnassius apollo caterpillars.
The weather conditions are mainly influenced by the height and size of the ranges, thanks to which the local mountain climate is created here. This affects the length of winters and their harsh nature: significant precipitation, large temperature fluctuations, and strong winds. P. apollo is well adapted to living in the changing climatic conditions of the mountains. Caterpillars can survive unfavourable weather like short periods of snowfall and low nighttime temperatures in spring.
It consists mainly of mountain streams with hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities and lakes, with post-glacial mountain lakes and wetland habitats, including raised bogs on the Karkonosze plateau. It has a positive effect on the maintenance of the stepping stone habitats used by the Apollo butterfly during migration, which ensures a full spectrum of nectariferous plants that bloom one after another, depending on the species, thus ensuring a longer period of nectar access.
Vegetation is something that specifically distinguishes Karkonosze from the mountains of Central Europe. Species from various geographic regions grow in a relatively small area, many of which are rare and endangered. There are also postglacial relics and endemics (e.g. Campanula bohemica, Thymus alpestris). The mountains host 259 species of fungi, 630 lichens, including 12 and 53 protected ones respectively. They comprise 1103 taxa of vascular plants (75 protected), 452 species of mosses and liverworts (57 protected), and 26 types of natural habitats. The Kamienne Mountains have 17 types of natural habitats covering a total of almost 50% of the site. Among these habitats, some are really important to the protection of Parnassius apollo.
The species composition and specificity of Karkonosze’s fauna, including many endemics, are the result of the climatic conditions prevailing here, the existing vegetation, past land use and the postglacial landscape. Hence, arctic and boreal-mountain species are found here. There are 47 species of mammals, 194 species of birds, 5 species of reptiles, 6 species of amphibians, 23 species of fish and over 15,000 species of invertebrates. The Kamienne Mountains are an important refuge for animal species listed in Annex II HD, especially bats (e.g. Myotis emarginatus and Rhinolophus hipposideros) and butterflies (e.g. Phengaris nausithous and Phengaris teleius). Moreover, they constitute an important part of the ecological corridor of the Sudetes, as the only well-preserved area between Karkonosze in the west and the Stołowe Mts. in the east.
The importance of the area for species conservation
The attempts to reintroduce the Apollo butterfly in the Sudetes were made at the end of the 20th century. In the years 1994-95, 50 fertilized females were successfully introduced in the reserve Kruczy Kamień. The population was self-sustained until 2006, when it was supplemented with other individuals in 2006 and 2008 (taken from the Pieniny population). Butterflies were also released in the adaptation plot in Chojnik Mt. in 2007 and 2008. An ex-situ breeding strategy with a farm was also established in KPN. These locations were selected due to the presence of optimal or close to optimal climatic conditions for the P. apollo, as well as the geomorphology, composition, and quality of habitats in the form of a mosaic of nectariferous meadows and sunny grassland slopes, which are conditions for the survival of a stable population.
The high protection status of selected areas is also important. The area overlaps with four Natura 2000 sites: Karkonosze, Góry Kamienne, Krkonoše, and Stawy Sobieszowskie. All those Natura 2000 sites protect mosaics of optimal Apollo habitats, especially in the Góry Kamienne. Most of the activities will focus on areas with the highest national protection regime i.e. the two Karkonosze National Parks, which additionally form the MAB UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and the Kruczy Kamień reserve near Lubawka. As part of the project, the pilot action of restoring the Sudetes’ population of P. apollo (in Chojnik Mt., Kruczy Kamień reserve and through ex-situ breeding by KPN) will be extended and continued. In order to increase the ecological effect – the creation of a stable Apollo butterfly population and minimising the risk – it is planned to additionally establish two ex-situ breeding centres on the Polish and Czech sides of the Sudetes, and to select other optimal sites for the introduction and migration (stepping stones) of the species.
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