Where have all the butterflies gone?
Butterfly species around the world are being threatened by climate change and loss of habitat.
Tue, Apr 14, 2009 at 05:19 PM
Around the world, butterfly species are in trouble. Climate change, habitat destruction, drought, and poaching are just a few factors causing numbers of some species to drop as much as 90% in some regions.
In the Rocky Mountains, new research out of the University of Alberta indicates that the alpine Apollo butterfly (Parnassius) could be at risk if its habitat becomes any more fractured. The butterflies are getting too spread out, which limits the gene pool and makes it easier for entire populations to be wiped out by a single climate event, inbreeding or disease.
The proposed fence along the U.S.-Mexico border could have similar consequences. Conservationists warn that the fence could destroy the traditional migratory patterns of as many as 300 butterfly species, as well as endangered ocelots and birds.
Can anything be done to prevent this habitat fracture? Maybe not, but one researcher in the UK is trying a proactive measure: mapping out butterfly migratory patterns, trying to predict how the patterns will change when temperatures rise, and recommending solutions to help circumvent the barriers that will likely arise as a result.
Meanwhile, many species are at risk from butterfly smuggling, an illegal industry believed to be worth as much as $200 million annually. Collectors and hobbyists drool over certain rare and beautiful species, which can fetch thousands on the black market.
Oddly enough, some legal butterfly sales are helping to fund conservation efforts. For example, commercial butterfly farms near Kenya's Kakamega forest are giving locals a revenue source besides chopping down the forests for lumber. (But the clients aren't always that great -- some U.S. socialites apparently order butterflies to use as decorations for their weddings.)
Not all butterfly news is dire. Monarch butterflies may be making a comeback after a few rough years, and the El Segundo blue butterfly recently made its first return to its native Santa Monica Bay habitat in decades.
So what can you do to help butterflies? Several enthusiasts help raise caterpillars, then release them when they become butterflies.
You can also find numerous articles online about how to plant gardens that will attract local butterflies. Try this one for a start.
Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in August 2007.