Pacific environmental science professor receives funding for butterfly restoration research

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Dogs and butterflies make for a pretty picture, but for Rich Van Buskirk and other local scientists the association is of greater significance.

The University of the Pacific environmental science professor received a grant from the Oregon Zoo Foundation to conduct research aimed at restoring Oregon’s endangered Silverspot butterfly population. His project involves the use of highly trained canids to locate late instar larvae and pupae in the wild to help identify areas of habitat where individuals survive beyond the early stages of life.

“Despite decades of researchers working to define the primary habitat requirements for this federally threatened species, populations remain in decline and recovery goals are not being met,” said Van Buskirk. “These challenges arise from the cryptic nature of the species’ larval stages, during which factors affecting survival are unknown.”

He and other scientists from the Oregon Zoo, Seattle Woodland Park Zoo, and the U.S. departments of the Fish & Wildlife and Forest Service, as well as the University of Washington’s Canine Conservation Program, joined together to lead the research. The team’s research efforts to date were recently featured on the “Oregon Field Guide” television show.

“We use scent-trained dogs to detect larvae and pupae that would otherwise be nearly impossible to locate,” Van Buskirk said.

This will allow the team to identify the characteristics that make habitats friendly or hostile.

“This will allow us to better identify butterfly habitat that can serve as a target for management and restoration efforts. “

The Oregon Zoo Foundation grant will also fund an opportunity for an undergraduate from the Pacific to join the team as a research assistant. Van Buskirk is an evolutionary ecologist, whose students have also previously joined in field research studying species like the American Kestrel and the restoration of the Gales Creek waterfront corridor.

Photo by Peter Pearsall / US Fish and Wildlife Service

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