‘Nature’s mirror’: Climate change batters Albania’s butterflies

VLORA     -    Bright yellow, black, red and blue, Alexanor butterflies once fluttered abundantly on southwestern Albania’s flowery slopes. Now, like many related species, scientists say they are disappearing due to human impacts, including climate change.  Increasingly absent from the picturesque district of Zvernec, the Alexanor is one of 58 of the Balkan country’s 207 butterfly species that researchers say are at risk. “Sensitive to changes, they are a true mirror of the conditions of the ecosystem in which they live,” said Anila Paparisto, an entomologist at Tirana University.  In Zvernec, Paparisto leads a team of researchers and students working to identify the country’s remaining butterfly species along with those that are now extinct.  Numerous scientific studies have measured the impact of climate change on butterfly populations, though researchers also cite other environmental factors. They blame a combination of rapid urbanisation, pesticides and warming temperatures for the decrease. “Human activity and climate change have had major impacts on nature,” said biology student Fjona Skenderi, who was helping conduct research in Zvernec. In the nearby Divjaka Natural Park, Albanian agronomist Altin Hila points to the disappearance of the Giant Peacock Moth and the Plain Tiger as another worrying sign. “It’s a disaster marked by climatic disruptions, an early spring and excessively high temperatures in January and February,” explained Hila, who is also a passionate collector and oversees a butterfly museum in Divjaka. “It encouraged the eggs to hatch and the butterfly larvae to grow, but in April the temperatures were too low” for them to survive, he added.  

The butterflies’ decline also affects other species. “It will impact the entire food chain and biodiversity, which is also essential for humans,” Paparisto said. “When there are fewer butterflies, you expect... the butterfly effect.” Like large swaths of Albania, coastal areas near Zvernec have become increasingly overrun with resorts and apartment blocks, built with little oversight.  Scientists say the rapid urbanisation in the area, along with overfishing and climate change, has also played a part in the dramatic drop in migratory bird populations.