Duke Studies Show That Environmental Effects Of Dams Extend To Insect Life

ting fruit have adapted to the flooding, completed in 1986. Using a small motorboat, she and her assistants visited four tiny islands weekly to make butterfly inventories. The now-isolated islands were located between 0.1 and 3 kilometers (a kilometer is about 6/10th of a mile) from "colonizing sources," places where the butterflies were known to have established populations.

Comparing those butterfly counts with others made at "control" sites on larger island and mainland locations, she came to a quick conclusion. "The big thing I found was that there were hardly any butterflies on these small islands, whereas if you went to a larger island or a continuous forest the densities are much higher," she recalled.

She found this puzzling, because her studies also showed many of these butterfly species were perfectly capable of flying to islands even farther away from the mainland. "I was very confused about how I was going to sort out all these effects and study them," she added. "So I decided to concentrate on one butterfly species."

Shahabuddin chose Hamadryas februa, one of a group commonly called "checkerspot" or "calico" butterflies because of their wing patterns. As a group, checkerspot butterflies are widely distributed in the American tropics, ranging north as far as Texas, she said.

However, the species Hamadryas februa is only known to lay its eggs on an inconspicous vine called Dalechampia scandens. This specificity made it easier for her to study why these butterflies might be found on one island but not on another. A helpful clue would be the presence or absence of egg-laying sites.

In 1996 and 1997, she expanded her study area to include 11 small islands and nine different control sites. She also did inventories of Dalachampia, the butterflies' "host" plants. "The most striking thing was that there were big differences from island to island in the numbers of host plants," she said. "One would think that

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University Medical Center

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