Land-use changes, farm management and the decline of butterflies associated with semi-natural grasslands in southern Sweden

Sven Nilsson, Markus Franzén, Lars Pettersson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)


Currently, we are experiencing biodiversity loss on different spatial scales. One of the best studied taxonomic groups in decline is the butterflies. Here, we review evidence for such declines using five systematic studies from southern Sweden that compare old butterfly surveys with the current situation. Additionally, we provide data on butterfly and burnet moth extinctions in the region’s counties. In some local areas, half of the butterfly fauna has been lost during the last 60-100 years. In terms of extinctions, counties have lost 2-10 butterfly and burnet moth species. Land use has changed markedly with key butterfly habitats such as hay meadows disappearing at alarming rates. Grazed, mixed open woodlands have been transformed into dense coniferous forests and clear-cuts and domestic grazers have been relocated from woodlands to arable fields and semi-natural grasslands. Ley has increased rapidly and is used for bale silage repeatedly during the season. Overall, the changed and intensified land use has markedly reduced the availability of nectar resources in the landscape. Species that decline in Sweden are strongly decreasing or already extinct in other parts of Europe. Many typical grassland species that were numerous in former times have declined severely; among those Hesperia comma, Lycaena virgaureae, Lycaena hippothoe, Argynnis adippe, and Polyommatus semiargus. Also, species associated with open woodlands and wetlands such as, Colias palaeno, Boloria euphrosyne and the glade-inhabiting Leptidea sinapis have all decreased markedly. Current management practise and EU Common Agricultural Policy rules favour intensive grazing on the remaining semi-natural grasslands, with strong negative effects on butterfly diversity. Abandoned grasslands are very common in less productive areas of southern Sweden and these habitats may soon become forests. There is an urgent need for immediate action to preserve unfertilized, mown and lightly grazed grasslands. It is also crucial to encourage that management of abandoned grasslands resumes before it is too late. In order to mitigate risks of further species loss and to work towards recovery of threatened butterfly populations using best known practises, we recommend twelve types of management measures favourable for many butterflies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-48
JournalNature Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology


  • Land management
  • conservation
  • agroecology
  • semi-natural grasslands
  • management recommendations
  • butterflies
  • Sweden


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