Butterfly Surveying in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Every Friday and Saturday a group of citizen scientists walk a transect in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and count butterflies by species using binoculars and occasionally a butterfly net. I joined them on several days this summer and dusted off my butterfly ID skills. The butterfly count is part of the North American Butterfly Monitoring Effort which collects the data and makes it available to the public. The data on butterfly abundance has made its way into several published papers, including one based on the Ohio monitoring effort called “Butterfly abundance declines over 20 years of systematic monitoring in Ohio, USA”. Wepprich et. al. (2019) suggests that declines in the abundance of both rare and common species of butterflies may be due to habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change resulting in range distribution shifts, and agricultural intensification. This paper confirmed the suspicions of many of the volunteers who have been conducting these surveys for years and noticed a reduction in their counts. 

The transect of the survey is specifically chosen to cover many different habitat types in order to sample an accurate representation of the park. As we walk through fields, shrubbery, young forests, and stands of mature oak trees, the species change quickly. The transect is divided into sections based on habitat type, so that the volunteers can keep track of where certain species frequent. Over time they have become incredibly knowledgeable naturalists. Their hard work is extremely important as these long term studies can produce statistically significant results that answer important conservation questions. 

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