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Butterfly Walk at Picnic Island

On Sunday, November 21 at 9:30 am, our sister organization, the Tampa Bay Butterfly Foundation, and NABA Tampa Bay will host a butterfly walk at Picnic Island. This is a great way to learn about some of the butterflies native to our area and the plants they use. It’s also a great way to learn more about the role butterflies play as an indicator of ecosystem health: because butterflies react so quickly to even minute environmental changes and because they also play an important part in very complex food webs, butterflies are good indicators of biodiversity. They also serve as an early warning system for reductions in other wildlife: birds are particularly reliant on the availability of caterpillars as food for young chicks while numerous native plants rely on butterflies for pollination.

For these reasons, and because most people can learn to recognize butterflies by sight and from photos they take, butterflies underpin many monitoring programs that are helping scientists learn more about the impacts of climate change and changes in land management. For instance, one recent study that relied extensively on data accumulated by the North American Butterfly Association’s volunteers found a “1.6% annual reduction in the number of individual butterflies observed over the past four decades, associated in particular with warming during fall months.” Other programs, like Journey North and the Monarch Monitoring Project, are helping scientists learn more about the migration of Monarchs, while Project Monarch Health is a citizen science project tracks the spread of disease in Monarchs.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has sponsored butterfly monitoring programs since 1993. Similar to Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count, NABA volunteers count butterflies within 15-mile circles at approximately 450 places every year. NABA notes, “The annually published reports provide a tremendous amount of information about the geographical distribution and relative population sizes of the species counted. Comparisons of the results across years can be used to monitor changes in butterfly populations and study the effects of weather and habitat change on North American butterflies.”

The walk that the Tampa Bay Butterfly Foundation is sponsoring will influence NABA’s decision about adding a count site with Picnic Island at its center. If you’d like to learn more about butterflies and how counting them can help scientists understand climate change, why not join the team? We’d love to see you. You can learn more by clicking here.