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Mathias Ibbe

History matters

Impact of historical land-use on butterfly diversity in clear-cuts in a boreal landscape

Background & aim

During the last century there has been a dramatic decreas in species rich grasslands used for hay production. In boreal regions this is a result of abandonment of farms. Large areas once covered by flower rich meadows have become dense coniferous forest.

Tha aim was to test if historical land-use has an impact on butterfly diversity in clear-cuts after a generation of coniferous forest.


Butterflies in clear-cuts, 12 historically managed  as meadows and 12 with a long history as forest, were recorded. Cadastral maps from the late 19th century  were used to find sites in Östergötland for the study. The figure is an example of a clear-cut placed on an area historically covered with meadows (green). 


78 % of the recorded butterflies were present in clear-cuts with a background as meadows.
44 different species were recorded in meadow clear-cuts, compared to 30 in clear-cuts with a long history as forest.
The higher diversity seem to be explained by larger abundance of nectar and host plants.
Several of the recorded butterflies are threatened in other parts of Europe.


The legacy of historical land-use enable  higher diversity of butterflies in clear-cuts than otherwise would be possible.
Clear-cuts on former meadows serve as temporary habitats for butterflies and contribute to their persistence in the boreal landscape.

Conservation implications

Old maps can be used to identify valuable areas for butterfly conservation in boreal landscapes. To maintain good butterfly habitat in these areas it is important to preserve a herb rich flora by avoiding dense even-aged coniferous forest.

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Last updated: 05/31/10