The great butterfly count
Graduate student and research assistant in the Forister Lab discusses his new role monitoring butterflies at Castle Peak.
Castle Peak is part of a long-term study of butterflies that includes 10 sites across Northern California which span an elevational gradient and have been monitored for more than 40 years. This is one of the longest-running studies of its kind and is a valuable and unique record of the biodiversity of the western US. Butterflies, like other insects, are very sensitive to environmental changes and can respond more quickly than longer-lived organisms. By continually surveying these sites we can better understand how these often overlooked animals are responding to a changing world. This work has been carried on by Distinguished Professor Art Shapiro at UC Davis, but some of the responsibility (starting with Castle Peak) is now being shared with the Forister lab at the University of Nevada, Reno.
I am a new Ph.D. student in the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology graduate group at UNR, and this project is an incredible opportunity. I am able to research questions I am interested in, using organisms that I know and love while hiking in beautiful Sierran mountainscapes. Long-term monitoring projects like this one are critical for understanding the stresses facing both flora and fauna. We can look at the past, collect data on the present, and use this to predict what may happen in the future. This has direct implications for conservation, which is one aspect I am very interested in. Measuring change is the first step. Once this is done we can look for and better understand the factors that have contributed to change, which can then inform various management strategies which aim to mitigate negative impacts.
By continuing to contribute to this incredible dataset we will not only answer important questions today but ensure that future scientists have the data to do the same.