Over a century of data reveal more than 80% decline in butterflies in the Netherlands

Arco J. van Strien*, Chris A.M. van Swaay, Willy T.F.H. van Strien-van Liempt, Martin J.M. Poot, Michiel F. WallisDeVries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


Opportunistic butterfly records from 1890 to 2017 were analysed to quantitatively estimate the overall long-term change in occurrence of butterfly species in the Netherlands. For 71 species, we assessed trends in the number of occupied 5 km × 5 km sites by applying a modified List Length method, which takes into account changes in observation effort. We summarised the species trends in a Multi-Species Indicator (MSI) by taking the geometric mean of the species indices. Between 1890–1930 and 1981–1990, the MSI decreased by 67%; downward trends were detected for 42 species, many of which have disappeared completely from the Netherlands. Monitoring count data available from 1992 showed a further 50% decline in MSI. Combined, this yields an estimated decline of 84% in 1890–2017. We argue that in reality the loss is likely even higher. We also assessed separate MSIs for three major butterfly habitat types in the Netherlands: grassland, woodland and heathland. Butterflies strongly declined in all three habitats alike. The trend has stabilised over recent decades in grassland and woodland, but the decline continues in heathland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-122
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Bayesian inference
  • Distribution
  • JAGS
  • List length analysis
  • Living Planet Index
  • Monitoring


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