Birds and Butterflies: Indicators of Ecosystem Dynamics

Birds and Butterflies: Indicators of Ecosystem Dynamics

Birds and butterflies are vital indicators for the state of ecosystems and biodiversity. They are living reminders of how important it is to take care of our environment and how insignificant human borders are when it comes to nature. Soon Armenia will have its first bird and butterfly atlases, joining such projects as European Breeding Birds Atlas 2, for the successful conservation of the rich diversity of the species. The atlases will include hundreds of butterfly and breeding bird species flying over the mountains and valleys of Armenia.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : TSE

 

 

The world “atlas” reminds me of the beautiful hardcover books that my grandfather used to show me when I was a child. The fascinating images of animals and plants were the only meaning these books could convey to me at the age of eight. When I recently came across the news that Armenia was about to publish its first atlases of birds and butterflies, I had the same feeling of fascination that I used to experience as a child, glancing through the colorful pages of the European or Asian atlases during the summer holidays at my grandfather’s veranda.

Colias alfacariensis

 

It turned out that atlases have a much more important application than highlighting the beauty of flora and fauna. Years of diligent data collection and monitoring lie at the core of each atlas, and the information collected can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, the first atlases in Armenia that will cover butterflies and breeding birds have a goal to introduce long-term, self-sustaining monitoring approaches, which can serve as a basis for identifying changes in the natural ecosystems. Indeed, way before the invention of innovative methods as early-warning systems for natural disasters, people would read the changes in the attitude of different animal and plant species to discover the dynamics in the ecosystems.

When working on this article, I was introduced to the Towards Sustainable Ecosystem (TSE) NGO – the organization behind the profound data collection on birds and butterflies. TSE has two branches involved in the project, Butterflies Conservation Armenia and Armenian Bird Census. In the framework of the environmental programme supported by GIZ, TSE undertook data analysis and development of atlases on butterflies and breeding birds, as essential milestones for biodiversity monitoring in Armenia, using the data collected up to this day. The robust, in-depth data collected and analyzed for the atlases directly benefit the government sector since reliable information is indispensable for efficient decision-making processes. It can also contribute to the formation of development strategies on conservation and management in the relevant sector. During the interview, the Executive Director of the NGO, Dr. Karen Aghababyan highlighted that the creation of the “Atlas of Butterflies in Armenia,” in particular, is based on an enormous amount of data and analysis.

Reed Bunting

 

On a more practical level, the atlas, which will be published soon, follows the universal scheme of all well-established atlases. The main section of the book is dedicated to the Species Accounts. Here all the necessary information about the species is compiled. Among other parts, the atlas has an Application section, which provides an overview of the practical use of data for the assessment of the condition of ecosystems. The authors managed to highlight the progress from simply collecting the information to the long-term monitoring of the species. Eventually, glancing through the atlas, one can witness how the data collected since 1874 have turned into a useful tool for tracking changes at the levels of species and ecosystems.

I was surprised to learn how much work it takes to assemble all the information for the atlases and how many professionals participated in making this knowledge available. Currently, TSE’s Butterfly Conservation Armenia has 500 members and five permanent specialists, not to mention the numerous international experts. The network is planned to be enlarged to cover the entire territory of the country. Today, the data cover the butterfly species of the 50% of Armenia’s land and the bird species of about 70% of the country.

Agriades dardanus

 

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Currently, the Programme “Management of natural resources and safeguarding of ecosystem services for sustainable rural development in the South Caucasus” (ECOserve) supports the development of the “Atlas of the Breeding Birds in Armenia.” The Armenian Bird Census branch of the TSE NGO has over 2600 members and a team of 10 permanent experts. Data collection started in 2003, and today the database consists of 300,000 records of 374 species, including 241 species of breeding birds. The data are being used for computation of species populations as well as are being transformed into graphs of population dynamics, and up-to-date maps of breeding birds in Armenia since 1990s. The process also caters to reviewing current bird conservation methods and could potentially lead to the development of new approaches.

The format of the atlas will be similar to the one for butterflies. Information on species populations, dynamics, and habitats will be available. One section will introduce the conservation status of the species, as well as the existing and proposed conservation measures. Beyond the preparations for the publication of the “Atlas of the Breeding Birds in Armenia,” the project is also preparing two workshops on the topics of biodiversity monitoring and ecosystem services provided by wildlife. The first workshop will be targeted at representatives of the state, NGOs, and tourism companies to highlight breeding birds’ functions in sustainable and responsible ecotourism. It will touch upon topics such as citizen science and investment in innovative methods for cost-effective biodiversity monitoring. The second workshop will address the mainstreaming of biodiversity into other sectors. Participants from ministries, private companies, and NGOs will explore opportunities and win-win solutions of the sustainable co-existence of nature and economics.

Stonechat

 

During the project implementation, TSE has been successfully implementing measures on capacity building with businesses and community residents on environmentally friendly operations and living. The team of TSE NGO recognized the immense hunting threats to bird populations and initiated a campaign to raise awareness in different pilot communities of Dilijan, Urtsadzor, Areni, Arpi, and Meghri. Going beyond changing attitudes towards hunting birds, the NGO offered residents alternative ways of income by supporting them to become guides in protected areas and, thus, to preserve the birds rather than shoot them. Around ten people made use of this opportunity and now offer visitors wildlife tourism and show them the beauty of nature. Eventually, bird watching turned into a new source of revenue for these rural families. This is just a small step that has the potential to lead to a more substantial transformation within these communities. In other words, the publication of these atlases can lead to further integration of butterfly and birdwatching in Armenia, eventually, turning it into a popular branch of ecotourism in the country.

The work on both bird and butterfly atlases also overlapped with the new publication period of the Armenian Red Book of Animals. The two processes are closely interlinked and can lead to the successful incorporation of data from the atlases into the Red Book. The target group of the butterfly and bird atlases includes relevant ministries, universities, related research institutions, as well as public libraries. The audience also includes businesses working in the ecotourism sector and international organizations. The atlases can be used for studying and monitoring of vital species and can also become a solid basis for further development of monitoring methodology to be used by the Government. The content is relevant for school programmes, and the atlases can serve as a foundation for teaching materials at educational institutions.

White stork

 

The data collected can also be used by both private and non-profit sectors, enabling various companies to implement environmental assessments. Another important fact is that the Breeding Birds Atlas, in particular, will contribute to the pan-European initiative of the European Breeding Bird Atlas 2, demonstrating the in-depth data on bird species and their habitats at the national level. Bird monitoring has been designed and implemented in all parts of the world both in developed countries such as Europe, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and in developing countries. This is due to the fact that birds are considered as a vital indicator of ecosystem changes, and their monitoring is a cost-effective, early-warning solution, with thousands of citizen scientists actively involved in the process of data collection.

After all, for me, the role of atlases transformed from being merely a book with mesmerizing images to a treasure, able to positively influence different people. My other interviewee, Dr. Astghik Danielyan, Adviser at GIZ Armenia, mentioned that when working on the atlas the team came up with names for some of those butterfly species, which did not have any. This means that these atlases have gone beyond their hardcovers, turning its content into scientific discovery. As a result, when reading the atlas, we uncover a new world, one page at a time and when putting the book aside, our imagination is filled with fascinating colors of butterfly wings and alluring bird songs.

Eurasian Bee-eater

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