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A Response to Article: Why insect populations are plummeting – and why it matters

Butterfly Pavilion's work in invertebrate research, conservation and education reveals a way forward.

By Mary Ann Colley, VP of Science & Conservation at Butterfly Pavilion

What should we make of the news that insect populations are in decline?

Many articles have recently been published about insect populations and their decline.  As an Invertebrate Zoo, Butterfly Pavilion believes it is important to contribute to this conversation.

Studies, some long term and others short have shown a decrease in invertebrate populations and diversity.  Is this cause for alarm?  The answer is difficult – yes and no.  It is very important to note that more study is needed on this topic and needs to be done soon to truly answer this question.

That is where Butterfly Pavilion comes into this story.  Since opening in 1995, Butterfly Pavilion’s mission is to transform the way people think about invertebrates. These small but mighty animals that surround us are so much more than people think. They are everywhere, because everything depends on them. They are the hidden heroes of the animal kingdom, and we--you and us--stand on the backs of these tiny giants.

Butterfly Pavilion is the first stand-alone, Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited non-profit invertebrate zoo in the world and a leader in invertebrate knowledge, inspiration and connection. Whether it is providing unique, hands-on learning experiences in our exhibits and educational programs, conducting new research that sets the standard for zoos across the country or building innovative solutions for species and habitat conservation in countries around the world, Butterfly Pavilion is leading the way in ensuring invertebrates are protected for the future.

Our mission is to foster an appreciation of invertebrates by educating the public about the need to protect and care for threatened habitats globally, while conducting research for solutions in invertebrate conservation.

Butterfly Pavilion’s important research and conservation projects span from our backyard in Colorado to international locations around the world.

Our projects:

RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION

Dragonfly Conservation Program - Butterfly Pavilion’s focus is to understand the ecology and conserve wild populations of dragonflies, especially threatened, endangered, or declining species; successfully breeding, rearing, and displaying dragonflies at Butterfly Pavilion, becoming a leader in dragonfly conservation. Our particular focus has been on the Hudsonian Emerald Dragonfly Habitat Preferences in Colorado, this species of special concern inhabits the high altitude lakes and ponds along the northern Front Range of Colorado. We conduct this work to better understand what habitat the species needs and prefers.

Firefly Conservation Program - Butterfly Pavilion’s focus is to understand the ecology and conserve wild populations of fireflies, especially threatened, endangered, or declining species within the United States; successfully breeding, rearing, and displaying fireflies at Butterfly Pavilion, establishing best practices in firefly conservation.

Threatened Colorado Butterfly Program - Colorado is home to two species of listed butterflies: Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly (Endangered) and Pawnee Montane skipper (Threatened). Butterfly Pavilion uniquely understands the ecology and conservation needs of wild populations of butterflies, especially threatened, endangered, and declining species. Butterfly Pavilion will lead in the data collection for recovery strategies and create conservation plans.

Urban Prairies Project - Butterfly Pavilion impacts the biodiversity and ecological health of local open spaces, refines models of responsible and effective habitat restoration for riparian and shortgrass prairie habitats, educates our local community about the importance of vital and healthy open spaces, and trains community members to become Master Restoration volunteers.

Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network - Butterfly Pavilion has created the fastest growing citizen science program for tracking butterfly trends via hands-on training and collaboration with local open space departments. Utilizing our network data, we will assess land management practices and further develop and create butterfly conservation programs.

Colorado Dragonfly Monitoring – We are monitoring populations, locations, and habitat associations of dragonflies throughout Colorado, especially with respect to habitat health and climate change.

Monarch Conservation Program - Butterfly Pavilion is positively impacting Monarch butterfly populations as we uniquely understand plant/invertebrate interactions and best practices to conserve and create habitat. Through habitat creation and restoration (Urban Prairies Project), population monitoring (Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network and Monarch Larval Monitoring Project), community education and engagement via distance learning programs and annual wildflower and milkweed seed giveaways (Pollinator Awareness through Education and Conservation), and continued work in activating and creating new opportunities for Monarch conservation; Butterfly Pavilion’s leadership ensures supportive habitat for Monarch butterflies at each life stage, increases population numbers and educates the community to safeguard their continued success.

Invertebrate Survey of Mongolia's Ikh Nart Nature Reserve: An Assessment of Invertebrate Biodiversity - In collaboration with Denver Zoo, we continue to exchange information, expertise, and culturally-appropriate training protocols between American and Mongolian scientists, conservationists, and park management staff to ensure the long-term success of invertebrate conservation in Mongolia.

Population Dynamics of Parnassian Butterflies in Mongolia- Parnassius sp. butterflies are threatened by habitat loss and alteration, as well as over-collection. We are studying populations of several species in northern Mongolia to better understand their ecology and population dynamics as a basis for conservation action.

Safety Web for Arthropod Reproduction and Management (SWARM) Program - Butterfly Pavilion will lead the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in the maintenance of sustainable populations for invertebrate programs and displays. This strategy will ensure that SWARM species will continue to thrive and will not disappear from North American collections.

Leading Environmental Action for Sustainability (LEAFS) – This program creates and fosters mutually beneficial partnerships with communities by empowering local people of emerging economies to invest in sustainable business ventures that successfully support their way of life.

Comparison of Invertebrate Communities on Restored and Unrestored Coastal Dunes in Northern California, with an emphasis on Pollinators - The US Bureau of Land Management and partners have been conducting sand dune restoration near Humbolt and Arcata, CA. Butterfly Pavilion is looking at the invertebrate communities to see how restoration affects their populations, with a particular view to assessing pollinators.

Importance of Pollinator Habitat beneath Solar Arrays - We are working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to assess our ability to provide pollinator habitat beneath solar arrays in Oregon.

Saudi Arabia Park Creation and Management- We are working throughout Saudi Arabia to help establish new protected areas and improve the management of existing protected areas in the country.

Bees for Elephants - We are working near Bardhia National Park, Nepal and Seregenti National Park, Tanzania to train people to build “bees fences,” which are honey bee hives connected by wires, to mitigate human-elephant conflicts (as elephants hate bees).

EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Adult Programs - Butterfly Pavilion provides an array of continuing education for adults in courses that highlight invertebrate appreciation and conservation through experiential learning.  These courses include: Beekeeping Bootcamp (a five course beekeeping class), Advanced Beekeeping workshops, Science Talks, Photography, Rainforest Yoga, Gardening courses, Pollination classes and Senior programs.

Youth Programs - Creating future stewards of our planet, Butterfly Pavilion provides a series of informal education opportunities for youth through a variety of camps, homeschool events and Scout classes.

Interpretation Programs - Butterfly Pavilion provides interpretation through one-on-one guest interactions within each immersive exhibit allowing guests to connect to the animals and the conservation messages.  Interpretive programs are provided throughout the day, bringing real science and conservation concepts to life through interactive and thought-provoking presentations.

School Programs - Butterfly Pavilion provides on-site classes for visiting schools and outreach programs across the state, supporting over 50,000 students annually.  Tied to state and national standards, our student centered, hands-on curriculum immerses students in investigative thought and supports them in constructing a new and deeper understanding of invertebrate conservation.

Distance Learning Programs – Our award-winning virtual programs connect students around the world to our conservation message through our innovative curriculum and expert staff.  Each program provides teacher resources, pre and post program activities and citizen science opportunities.

Teacher Professional Development - Butterfly Pavilion provides professional development opportunities and continuing education credit for the Growing Scientist program.

World Conservation Days - Butterfly Pavilion highlights important invertebrate and habitat initiatives throughout the year creating fun, interactive and informative programming for exhibit guests around topics like wetlands, plant conservation, ocean health, and pollinators.  Through these days, guests are informed and inspired to learn more and protect the natural world.

Butterfly Pavilion knows that this work is important to the education of our communities and that the data we collect will go far in answering pressing conservation questions.  What we have already discovered through our research is that restored habitats may see a rebounding of insect populations. There is hope, so let’s take action.

In a quote from Why insect populations are plummeting – and why it matters, the problem is “Death by a thousand cuts”, which means that there are so many reasons for the known declines. However, there are also so many things that we can do to make things better.  Invertebrate conservation is so meaningful because it can be done by you and me. It can start with simple things to eliminate some of those “cuts”!

Invertebrate conservation is conservation that we can all participate in and see the results. No matter where you live or who you are, there are simple things you can do to make the world better for invertebrates and the rest of us.

  • Practice clean gardening
  • Recycle
  • Compost
  • Plant pollinator habitat (especially native plants)
  • Restore native plants (UPP!)
  • Provide a bird bath or other water source in your garden
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Use bath products without micro-plastics

About Butterfly Pavilion:

Butterfly Pavilion is the world’s only stand-alone, Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited invertebrate zoo dedicated to transforming the way people think about the small but mighty animals that are the hidden heroes of the animal kingdom. As the leader in invertebrate knowledge, inspiration and connection, and as a member institution of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, Butterfly Pavilion works to foster an appreciation of these critical animals by educating the public about the need to protect and care for threatened habitats globally, while conducting research for solutions in invertebrate conservation. Whether it is providing unique, hands-on learning experiences in our exhibits and educational programs, conducting new research that sets the standard for zoos across the country or building innovative solutions for species and habitat conservation in countries around the world, Butterfly Pavilion is leading the way in ensuring invertebrates are protected for the future. Learn more at Butterflies.org.

Butterfly Pavilion Media Contact(s):
Kristen Petitt Stewart, kstewart@butterflies.org or 970-389-1561
Russ Pecoraro, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, rpecoraro@butterflies.org or 720.375.9984

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