A Tale of Two Wings

A butterfly drawing on a wood panel

It’s Canadian Environment Week, and here at the Office of Sustainable Development we thought it was important to address the issue of biodiversity in the Ottawa area. Today, we are meeting Rosana, a uOttawa student who is currently doing her Master’s in biology. She explains to us why a great deal of her studies presently is ... chasing butterflies!

Office of Campus Sustainability : What is your Master’s about ?
Rosana : I’m looking at the response of butterflies to the interacting effect of climate change and habitat fragmentation. I want to see how the interaction of these two forces causes changes in butterfly species richness and distribution over time. I also want to predict the future, and determine extinction rates as a result of the combined effects of these two forces.

OFC : How do you catch the butterflies you’re using for your research ?
Rosana : We go to predetermined study sites around Ottawa. If we see a butterfly, we catch it with a net. We have a field guidebook with us, and we try to identify them in the field, and then we let them go. We keep track of every butterfly we see at every site. We go sample each site at least twice a month.
Butterflies emerge at different times throughout the season so we want to catch every butterflies at different mergence periods. We’ll go at the beginning of the month and then we’ll hit the same site again at the end of the month to see if there are new butterflies and record those species.

OFC : What species are you looking for ?
Rosana : We’re looking for all species, well the species that you find within this range. We’re tracking changes in butterfly species richness, and we’re looking at changes of species composition overtime.

OFC : What are the most common species you can observe in the field ?
Rosana : We have the invasive Cabbage white species, we see them a lot, we’re starting to see swallowtails now, which is perfect, they’re really beautiful, and then we see a lot of blues, the silvery blue for example.

OFC : What is the most efficient way to recognize butterflies ?
Rosana : It’s based on patterns on the upperside and the underside of their wings (forwings and hindwings). Whenever we catch one we go through the identification book to find out which one it is, because lots of butterflies look a lot the same.

OFC : What can you learn from catching the butterflies, in relation to your research?
Rosana: The main reason why I am using butterflies for my research is because they are excellent indicators of ecosystem health due to their rapid and sensitive responses to habitat and climatic changes.

OFC : What are the best conditions to catch butterflies ?
Rosana : Since butterflies are ectotherms, we only go to the field when temperatures are high enough for the butterflies to fly. Also there needs to be minimum cloud cover.

And voilà, you’re now ready to hunt butterflies (but please don't actually). Enjoy the day, the weather is ideal. Also, a huge thank you to Rosana for her time and passion!

~ Audrey - volunteer and outreach coordinator