Butterflies Going to Heaven

Girl in butterfly costume, 1902. Courtesy Flickr.

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It’s the International Year of Biodiversity—launched by the UN to highlight a problem that many scientists consider as dire as climate change. Sadly, climate change is itself a major contributor to biodiversity loss. And vice versa. Expect much mournful science on this front in 2010.

First up, a new study reveals exactly how California’s butterflies are reeling from the double slap of climate change and the destruction we call development. The analysis was spearheaded by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro at UC Davis and will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The major findings:

  • The number of California’s different butterfly species present near sea level is dwindling fast
  • Species are declining more slowly or holding constant in the mountains, except at tree line
  • At tree line, butterfly diversity is increasing, as lower-elevation species react to the warming climate by moving upslope to cooler elevations
  • Diversity among high-elevation butterflies is falling as temperatures warm

There’s nowhere for those butterflies to go except heaven, Shapiro tells UC Davis.

The most surprising finding? That ruderal species (those that breed on “weedy” plants in disturbed habitats and are highly mobile) are declining faster than nonweedies. This is especially true in the mountains. Most mountain butterflies recolonize every year from lower elevations. Which means that as their numbers drop in the valleys during the winter (due to habitat destruction), fewer individuals are available to disperse uphill in the summer. The rate of recolonization is dropping.

Shapiro says:

“Butterfly folks generally consider these ruderal species to be ‘junk species,’ sort of the way bird watchers think of pigeons and starlings. So it came as a shock to discover that they were being hit even harder than the species that conservationists are used to thinking about.”

I wrote at length about the biodiversity crisis in Gone, including the incredible monarch butterfly economy of North America, upon which much depends.
 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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