Butterfly community shifts over two centuries
Environmental changes strongly impact the distribution of species and subsequently the composition of species assemblages. Although most community ecology studies represent temporal snap shots, long-term observations are rather rare. However, only such time series allow the identification of species composition shifts over several decades or even centuries. We analyzed changes in the species composition of a southeastern German butterfly and burnet moth community over nearly 2 centuries (1840-2013). We classified all species observed over this period according to their ecological tolerance, thereby assessing their degree of habitat specialisation. This classification was based on traits of the butterfly and burnet moth species and on their larval host plants. We collected data on temperature and precipitation for our study area over the same period. The number of species declined substantially from 1840 (117 species) to 2013 (71 species). The proportion of habitat specialists decreased, and most of these are currently endangered. In contrast, the proportion of habitat generalists increased. Species with restricted dispersal behavior and species in need of areas poor in soil nutrients had severe losses. Furthermore, our data indicated a decrease in species composition similarity between different decades over time. These data on species composition changes and the general trends of modifications may reflect effects from climate change and atmospheric nitrogen loads, as indicated by the ecological characteristics of host plant species and local changes in habitat configuration with increasing fragmentation. Our observation of major declines over time of currently threatened and protected species shows the importance of efficient conservation strategies.