Eucan visit to Romania July 7th – 30th 2011 Report on the Day-flying Lepidoptera surveys carried out during the placement

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EuCAN visit to Romania July 7th – 30th 2011
Report on the Day-flying Lepidoptera surveys carried out during the placement

The dayflying Lepidoptera surveys took place during the period July 12th - 26th in three areas of Transylvania.

July 12th – 15th in the Csik area close to Miercurea Ciuc (Csikszereda) and

July 16th – 17th in the Gyimes area based at Aldomas, both for the Pogány-Havas Association.

July 19th – 26th in the Saxon villages area around Saschiz and Sighisoara for the ADEPT Foundation.
12 UK participants took part in this visit, accompanied by botanist Gabor Sramko from Debrecen University for the first two days in Csik, by János Tóth and Judit Bereczki, entomologists also from Debrecen University for the work in the Csik and the Gyimes areas, and by entomologist and expert in Transylvanian culture András Szabadfalvi from Vác in northern Hungary.
In both the Csik and the Gyimes areas, surveys were carried out of butterfly and day-flying moth species in the sites visited. Photos were taken of difficult species including some of the Orthoptera. The photos were examined and identifications made by János Tóth, and in the case of the Orthoptera, by Dr. István Rácz also of Debrecen University. Some specimens were taken of difficult Pyrgus and Zygaena species for later identification but this was kept to a minimum. In the Saschiz/Sighisoara area, the group were accompanied by Jacqueline Loos and Tibi Hartel for the work in the Apold commune and by Andras Szabadfalvi for the remainder of the visit.
GPS readings were recorded for the sites visited and in the case of the surveys in the Saschiz/Sighisoara area, the polygon reference numbers for the individual blocks visited as numbered on the aerial maps of the communes we were provided with by ADEPT.
Mercury vapour moth traps (125W) were set on most of the nights of the visit and as many of the moths were identified as was possible. A staggering total of 325 species were identified, with at least another 100 other species of micromoths remaining unidentified. Photos of many of the species have been uploaded onto the EuCAN Flickr site:
The butterflies and dayflying moths we recorded are listed on the attached spreadsheet. Overall 95 species of butterflies (excluding dayflying moths) were recorded during the visit, the highest number of species for any of the EuCAN placements since 2007. Of these species, 4 are listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive and 9 listed as Near Threatened on the EU level in the Red List of European Butterflies (van Swaay et al. 2010)
Four species recorded are listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive.

The Large Blue (Maculinea arion), was recorded at 5 sites visited. This is a species with a complex ecology dependent on ants, which thrives in pastures where the larval foodplants Thymus spp and Origanum vulgare grow. Where the pastures have been abandoned, this species will disappear as the scrub species invade the habitat. The increase in the shade smothers the foodplants and renders the habitat unsuitable for the ants. This species is described as Endangered on the European Red List.
The Scarce Large Blue (Maculinea teleius), requires wet meadows with abundant stands of Greater Burnet, Sanguisorba officinalis, the larval foodplant in the early stages of its lifecycle – it is also dependent on ants. Many low-lying haymeadows in the Csik area have stands of this plant but the butterfly will not thrive if the hay crop is taken while the larvae are in the flower heads, the usual time for haycutting. For the Scarce Large Blue to survive, it is recommended that the haycrop is taken after the end of August (or before the end of June in a dry year) but this is considered to be agriculturally impractical as a late haycrop is far less nutritious and the weather less suitable for cutting. A compromise may be found whereby the area is cut as a mosaic so that some Sanguisorba always remains uncut into September. Maculinea teleius was only found in one site, the huge and very rich area of abandoned pastures between Daia and Crit. This species is described as Vulnerable on the European Red List.

The Large Heath (Coenonympha tullia) is a species of bogs and other very wet habitats. In the Palos valley, the main threat is the invasion of the wet low-lying land beside the stream by Salix species and other scrub. It was only seen on this site during our visit. This species is described as Vulnerable on the European Red List.
The Woodland Brown (Lopinga achine) has a very fragmented distribution in Europe where it generally thrives in recent clearings in actively worked woodlands. However, in the Somlyó and Palos river valleys in the Csik area of Transylvania, its favoured habitat seemed to be wood pasture with hazel and spruce developing on the slopes of abandoned pastureland. This species is described as Vulnerable on the European Red List.
Nine species that we recorded are classified as Near Threatened in the Red list of European Butterflies (but are not Habitats Directive species)

Purple-shot Copper (Lycaena alciphron) and Purple-edged Copper (Lycaena hippothoe) were both seen in the Palos valley and L. alciphron was also seen on the Pogany-Havas mountain.

Eastern Short-tailed Blue (Everes decoloratus) was only positively identified once in the Sanguisorba pastures west of Crit, but it may have been overlooked elsewhere due to identification difficulties.

Turquoise Blue (Polyommatus dorylas) was present in eight sites, and was found to be generally abundant in these.

Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell (Polychloros xanthomelas) was seen emerging from a pupa in a low-lying part of the Palos valley and was apparently a new record for that site.

Pallas Fritillary (Argynnis laodice) was seen flying in very good numbers in the wooded areas south of Saschiz.

Niobe Fritillary (Argynnis niobe) was recorded from 5 sites in the Csik, Gyimes and Saschiz areas, and may have been missed due to its similarity to High Brown Fritillary (A. adippe) (which was abundant).

Both Nickerl’s Fritillary (Melitaea aurelia) and False Heath Fritillary (M. diamina) were recorded in the Palos valley with the former being found in all three of the lowland sites visited in Csik.


The rich biodiversity of these areas is a product of the low-input, very small scale agricultural systems that operate in much of Transylvania. The threats to this biodiversity will come both from the enlargement and intensification of these farming systems as the country becomes more affluent and more exposed to foreign investors, and also from the abandonment of marginal land on the steeper slopes leading to invasion by scrub species and ultimately to afforestation (planned or natural). In the Csik and Gyimes areas where land is mainly owned privately, the threats from afforestation are probably greater, as private individuals will be able to make more money by planting trees and with far less effort than is required for subsistence farming. We recorded 57 species of butterflies in the Palos river valley site, a very high level of biodiversity. Many of these are at risk from agricultural improvements, afforestation or abandonment.

In the Saschiz area, much of the land more distant from the villages is held in common and is managed through associations. Here the threats from natural succession are of more importance. We recorded 46 species during a brief visit to the Sanguisorba meadows between Daia and Crit with very good numbers of Maculinea teleius; in addition the species related to the wooded areas and the forestry track were seen in stunning numbers and included a particularly large abundance of Nympalids (Admirals, Emperors, Fritillaries etc). This particular site seems to be unique in its size and richness, and should be given top priority for conservation management to ensure its future. At present there seems to be little intervention here.
Assessment of eligibility of hig-biodiversity land for agri-environment grants

In the Gyimes areas we visited, the most biodiversity seems to be in the meadows further from the farmsteads where there is little manuring carried out and in the higher pastures where there is cattle grazing or where the haymeadows have been abandoned. In the Csik and Saschiz areas much of the lower lying land is farmed as arable, in some places quite intensively. Where these fields have been abandoned, the reversion to high nature value grassland is going to be extremely slow with a domination by arable weeds in the nutrient-rich soils for many years. The land on the slopes between the arable or ex-arable fields in the valley bottoms and the woods higher up, has been used as cattle pasture or haymeadow in the past and is rapidly becoming scrubbed over by natural succession. In places, the scrub is managed by burning as a short-term solution. Almost without exception, these grasslands showed very high biodiversity.

We would suggest that where botanical (or even aerial surveys) show that the communities of plant species are present that support the butterflies, Orthoptera and wealth of other animal species that we saw in our snapshot visit, these will be the ones that should have priority for management while the agri-environment grants are being negotiated for their long-term future. To survey the Lepidoptera in all the polygons in all the communes around Sighisoara will be a mammoth task; plant species and community indicators are sufficient to define the agri-environment target areas.

Nigel Spring 25.10.2011

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