Critical of « Dragonflies of Poitou-Charentes »

Libellules du Poitou-Charentes.
Publisher : Poitou-Charentes Nature (in association with Charente Nature, Vienne Nature, Deux-Sèvres Nature Environnement and Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux).

This is one of the best regional atlases that I have seen and, considering its exceptional quality and size, is very reasonably priced. The main period covered is 2002 – 2008. In total almost 61,000 records are included, more than 30,000 of which were from 2004 and 2005. There are a considerable number of contributors and they are listed at the beginning, with individual authors noted after the piece they have written. The text is in French but for anyone not reading the language the illustrations are largely self-explanatory.
The atlas covers the largely rural Poitou-Charentes region in the west of France, which includes the departments of Deux-Sèvres and Vienne in the north and Charente and Charente-Maritime in the south. The rivers in the north mainly flow northwards to join the Loire ; those in the south flow westwards to enter the Atlantic in the region of La Rochelle. The region covers 26,000 km2 (just over 10,000 square miles) and 68 of the 87 species found in France are currently to be found there.
The book starts with a brief description of dragonflies (Le monde des Libellules), followed by details of their biology and ecology. There is then a section on the topography and climate of the region, including details of the main habitats to be found, and why it is an important area for dragonflies (Intérêt du Poitou-Charentes pour les libellules). Four species, the White Featherleg Platycnemis latipes, the Copper Demoiselle Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis, the Pronged Clubtail Gomphus graslinii and the Splendid Cruiser Macromia splendens, are at the northern limits of their distribution in this region.
Short chapters follow on where, when and how to study dragonflies, how to go about identifying them (with details of the morphology of both adults and larvae) and details of the information collected for the construction of the atlas. There is a list of the 68 species (26 zygopterans and 42 anisopterans) currently found in the region and a chart showing the flight period of 59 of them.
The largest chapter comprises 135 pages covering the 68 species, four of which have only been discovered there since 2001. All but one of the species is given a double page spread and the details include distribution, habitat, general biology/ ecology, threats, conservation and at least one colour photograph of the species. In most cases flight phenology is provided in the form of a graph. The distribution maps distinguish between ’confirmed reproduction’ and ’presence only’. Confirmed reproduction includes the presence of mating pairs or good numbers of larvae as well as observed emergence or the presence of exuviae. The chapter concludes with details of species to look out for that have either been mentioned in earlier literature (but not been seen recently) or are present in adjacent regions.
A chapter titled ’Les cortèges odonatologiques’ describes the main types of habitat in the region and outlines which of the known breeding species occurs in them. It then goes on to outline two excellent odonatological sites in each of the four departments : (1) Vienne – the Pinail Nature Reserve and the Vienne River, (2) Charente – the peat cuttings near Gurat and the Charente river at Jarnac, (3) Deux-Sèvres – the conservation area near Boussais with its 300 lakes and the 7,000 hectares of marsh between Niort and the Vendée/Charente-Maritime border, (4) Charente-Maritime – the lakes at Corignac and the marshes at Saint-Pierre d’Oléron.
The penultimate chapter discusses the threats to odonates and the final one deals with conservation measures. Ten species are well protected in France both through national legislation and through annex 2 of the Berne convention ; of these ten species, eight are found in Poitou-Charentes. Twenty-nine species in the region are under threat and eight of these are listed as Endangered on the provisional National Red List ; indeed one of the latter (the Splendid Cruiser Macromia splendens) is listed as Internationally Vulnerable by the IUCN. The book concludes with a glossary, a very good bibliography and indexes to scientific and French species names.

I cannot fault this publication ; it is truly excellent. The only minor quibble that I could find was the lack of explanation of the colours on the first map of the region ! There are over 500 colour photographs, maps and graphs, the quality of which is extremely high ; indeed some of the photographs of species and habitats are stunning. This is an excellent book and I strongly recommend it for anyone visiting the region or indeed anywhere in France. You will not be disappointed.

Peter J. Mill – Dragonfly news . Autumn 2010