Graduate student studies human environmental effects on butterflies

University student's research results published in national academic journal

6/26/2014 | By: Annie Conway  |

Anne Espeset, a graduate student in the University of Nevada, Reno Department of Biology was one of five researchers whose research on the effects of road salt on butterflies was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She and her colleagues from the University of Minnesota examined the anthropogenic impact increased sodium has on other organisms. Their research specifically focuses on effects road salt, which is used to improve driving conditions, has on neural and muscle development in monarch and cabbage white butterflies.

"It is important to look at the human mediated effect on the butterflies to understand the impact that humans make on the environment in a larger scale," Espaset said.

The research revealed that increased sodium levels impacted female and male butterflies differently. Males that were exposed to a medium-sodium diet showed greater flight muscle whereas the females showed an increase in brain size.

According to Espeset, while a small amount of sodium is beneficial to butterflies, high-levels of sodium are toxic and stressful to the organisms, thus creating a high mortality rate.

Espeset worked with fellow student researchers Christopher Boser and Rhea Smykalski and junior scientist William White under the guidance of Emilie Snell-Rood, assistant professor in the department of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota.

"This is the first project that introduced me into research," Espeset said. "I am extremely lucky to have been able to work with Snell-Rood."

After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, Espeset came to the University of Nevada, Reno where she is currently pursuing her doctorate in ecology, evolution and conservation biology. She is currently studying the anthropogenic impacts of fertilizer nitrogen levels in cabbage white butterflies under the guidance of Mathew Forister, associate professor in the Department of Biology.

"Having an early-career publication in a high-quality journal is extremely important these days, both for the publication of future research and for job prospects in an increasingly competitive academic environment," Forister said. "This research is important for reminding us that our actions have complex effects on the world around us, and this perspective is one that Anne is continuing to pursue in Nevada."

For the complete published research findings, visit the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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