Park Rangers Use Butterflies to Measure Biodiversity in Ecuador

Scientists have enlisted the help of park rangers to monitor butterfly abundance in one of the most biodiverse places on Earth – Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. The study hopes to discover the true extent of the loss of many insect species populations, seen across the globe. Butterflies are considered an indicator species, used to measure how similar species are doing. 

Ecuador has about 20 – 25% of the world's butterfly species and is considered a natural place to study butterfly diversity and evolution. An established monitoring program gives a better understanding of the possible long-term changes in the abundance of butterflies over the seasons. Yasuni National Park was chosen for this study due to its infrastructure.

Every two months, the park rangers conduct butterfly monitoring events. Bait traps are filled with fruit and carrion and are refilled for five days. Rangers patrol them every day, removing butterflies with forceps. Field guides are used for identification. A permanent marker number is written on the underside of the wing, the butterfly is photographed and released. They record whether the butterfly was marked, released or collected, the specimen code, the species name, the trap number, trap location, bait type, date, time and image number. Basic weather conditions are also recorded. 

Most insect population studies have been conducted in temperate regions, as opposed to biodiverse tropical regions, which experience fewer seasonal changes. Using park rangers in these regions is more cost-effective due to fewer scientists being available to access these areas. The park rangers benefit through the expansion of knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity that they are protecting.


Author: Sylvia Jacobs

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