The BC Butterfly Atlas is a community-based citizen science project aimed at increasing our knowledge of the status and distribution of butterflies in British Columbia.
Beginning in 2012, the BC Butterfly Atlas will harness the efforts of both professional biologists and citizen naturalists to document the distribution and abundance of butterflies in British Columbia. Gathering butterfly records from across BC will help identify which species are truly rare and which are more common, provide a snapshot of butterfly populations to which past and future surveys can be compared, and inform efforts to conserve butterflies and their habitats. Results will be collated into a single database and made available on maps on the project website. The project also aims to educate and engage the public about the importance of biodiversity and increase involvement in butterfly conservation in BC.
The BC Butterfly Atlas has the following objectives:
- Increase public interest in butterflies and involvement in butterfly watching;
- Share information on the distribution, abundance, and habitat relationships of butterflies in British Columbia;
- Educate British Columbians on the importance of conservation of butterflies and their habitat; and
- Develop resources and partnerships to improve conservation of butterflies and their habitats.
Mapping biodiversity is a growing stewardship activity around the world, and the information collected is invaluable for the conservation of species and their habitat. Following on the recent success of the BC Breeding Bird Atlas and butterfly atlassing projects in other jurisdictions (e.g., Butterflies of the New Millenium (UK), Maritimes Butterfly Atlas, and atlases in several US states), we are initiating a citizen-based survey and atlassing program for butterflies in British Columbia. Despite their important ecological role and value as habitat indicators, butterflies in BC lack adequate information on their distribution, abundance, and habitat relationships needed for effective conservation. An atlassing project would seek to fill this information gap while increasing public awareness and support for butterfly conservation.
Like the BC Breeding Bird Atlas, butterfly atlassing will be conducted by volunteers using an established protocol within 10 km x 10 km grid squares covering the whole province. Participants will also be encouraged to report incidental observations of butterflies from throughout the province. Methods used seek to balance participation with the needs of rigorous identification and documentation standards (such as identifying photos and voucher specimens). As our province is large compared to the number of potential observers, we have developed methods that can engage participants with a range of skills and abilities.
Why a BC Butterfly Atlas?
Butterflies are important pollinators, key indicators of ecosystem health and change (such as responses to climate change), and increasingly endangered due to habitat loss. In BC, 30% of the known butterfly taxa (79 of 265 subspecies) are currently classified at risk of extinction. Other more common butterflies have particular associations with sensitive natural landscapes (e.g., grasslands, riparian ecosystems) or ecosystem types (e.g., Garry oak ecosystem). Yet, despite their ecological importance, information on the distribution of butterfly species in BC is incomplete or inconsistent. Existing records are becoming out-of-date and recent small-scale surveys for rare species have shown that many existing populations have yet to be documented, even in relatively well-surveyed areas. Moreover, specific butterfly-habitat relationships (such as relationships with larval host plants) are not well-documented. Search efforts to collect this information are sporadic and often depend on expensive surveys by professional biologists or committed local naturalists. Without detailed information on the locations of butterfly populations and their habitat, they cannot be effectively conserved.
The BC Butterfly Atlas provides an effective and financially-efficient structure to increase and coordinate data collection efforts among organizations and agencies, encourage grassroots involvement from a broad range of participants, and educate the general public as well as landowners and decision-makers about the importance of butterflies. These are important precursors towards a long-term goal of increased butterfly habitat conservation in BC. Butterflies are also charismatic creatures that are an important flagship for other forms of biodiversity and a useful tool to increase public interest in environmental stewardship and habitat conservation generally. Data collected will serve many uses, such as prioritizing species and landscapes for conservation efforts, building support for butterfly habitat conservation, and as a basis for tracking trends in butterfly populations over time.
How to Participate
There are three potential ways you can participate in this important project:
- Record and submit your incidental butterfly observations from wherever you see them in BC;
- Monitor one or more individual sites (e.g., such as a backyard garden or park) over time; or
- Comprehensively survey one or more 10 km x 10 km atlas squares over one or more years using a set protocol.
Sightings, photographs, and specimens all constitute records useful to the Atlas. You don’t have to be a butterfly expert to participate in the project. Unidentified butterfly photos can be submitted for identification by a team of experts.
To get involved as a data contributor or for more information on the project, please contact:
Patrick Lilley, Atlas Coordinator
Phone: 604-812-2578 or 778-340-3455