Friday, May 24, 2024

Ecuador’s Amazon Region Uses Butterflies as a Climate Indicator

In the dense foliage of the Ecuadorian Amazon, biologists employ an unconventional method—using a malodorous mixture to attract butterflies, key pollinators under threat from escalating climate shifts. This takes place within the verdant expanses of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.

Venturing deep into Cuyabeno, a sanctuary renowned for its diverse species, researchers have installed 32 green net traps, each one baited with decomposed fish and overripe bananas. These traps, camouflaged among the treetops, emit a strong odor to capture the delicate creatures. Since August of the previous year, biologists alongside park rangers have diligently tracked the butterfly populations, an effort highlighting the delicate balance of this ecosystem.

The captured butterflies, vibrant and varied in color, are carefully documented; the majority are released back into the wild with a small mark for future identification, while some potentially new species are preserved for further examination. Maria Fernanda Checa, a leading biologist, emphasizes the importance of these insects, describing them as “bioindicators” whose population dynamics reflect the overall health of the environment.

Despite a less than 10 percent reduction in species variety, the actual number of butterflies has plummeted significantly, possibly by up to half, signaling a concerning trend that has researchers on high alert. The team, led by expedition chief Elisa Levy, meticulously examines each butterfly, handling them gently to avoid damage.

Butterflies play a crucial role beyond their indicator status. Approximately three-quarters of the world’s crops that produce fruits or seeds depend on pollinators like them, which contribute services valued in the billions. However, the United Nations has issued warnings about the stark decline of invertebrate pollinators, including butterflies, with 40 percent facing the threat of global extinction—a situation with dire implications for global food security.

In Ecuador, a nation celebrated for its rich biodiversity despite its modest size, roughly 4,000 butterfly species thrive, rivaling the numbers found in much larger neighboring countries like Peru and Colombia. However, the discovery of new species in regions adjacent to Cuyabeno, such as Yasuni National Park, is being outpaced by the rate of extinction, a pressing concern for conservationists like Checa.

As the climate continues to change, the survival of tropical plants and the butterflies that depend on them hangs in the balance, prompting a critical examination of how these ecosystems can adapt to the rapid environmental transformations unfolding in one of the world’s most vital biological havens.

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