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Velvet Revolution triggers rapid expansion of rose chafer beetles in Europe

Rose chafer beetle (Oxythyrea funesta)

Rose chafer beetle (Oxythyrea funesta), a formerly rare species in Central Europe (Photo credit: J Horak)

Human-mediated changes in climate and land use can impact speciesí survival and distribution. While most species are dwindling due to these changes, some introduced and indigenous species can rapidly expand their original or historical ranges which were previously restricted by dispersal and ecological barriers. Compared to many invasive alien species whose range expansion represents the process of filling empty niches, extralimital species (i.e. domestic exotics) can expand their ranges either by filling new habitats created by environmental changes (climate and land use changes) or outburst due to accumulating local propagule pressure.

Central Europe witnessed a dramatic change in land cover after World War II when industrialisation transformed large areas of grasslands into agricultural land and industrial zones. Land use trends were further altered after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 when the use of fertile land started to intensify and unproductive areas were being converted back to grasslands and commercial forests. In a paper recently published in Naturwissenschaften, Cang Hui (C·I·B researcher) teamed up with international colleagues and examined both the build-up of local propagule pressure and environmental gradients that could potentially drive the expansion of the rose chafer beetle Oxythyrea funesta, in Central Europe, during the decade before (pre-1990) and after (post-1990) the Velvet Revolution when expansion suddenly sped up.

The study found that the slow spread of O. funesta before 1990 changed to a phase of rapid expansion after 1990 was driven not only by changes in the environment (climate and land use) but also by the accumulation of local propagule pressure. Climate was found to play a significant role but only during the niche filling stage before 1990, whilst land use became important during the phase of rapid expansion after 1990. Both the build-up of local propagule pressure and the land-use change after the political regime shift contributed to the sudden rapid range expansion of this important pollinator and scavenger species in Central Europe.




Read the paper:

Horak, J., Hui, C., Roura-Pascual, N. & Romportl, D. (2013) Changing roles of propagule, climate, and land use during extralimital colonization of a rose chafer beetle. Naturwissenschaften 100: 327-336.

For more information, contact Cang Hui at chui@sun.ac.za