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Park Picked for Butterfly Study

Virginia’s salt marshes serve as critical habitat for a complex community of plants, birds, fish, and insects. One important resident of these tidal wetlands is the salt marsh skipper, a small, brown butterfly that breeds, as the name would suggest, exclusively in salt marshes. Though sea-level rise and erosion threaten to destroy much of its habitat, very little is known about the ecology of this butterfly. To understand how we might better conserve this species in the face of habitat loss, researchers from the College of William & Mary have begun to survey coastal salt marshes throughout the greater Hampton Roads area, including a study site at the Paradise Creek Nature Park. We will collect data on salt marsh skipper abundance and behavior (e.g., mating, consuming nectar, etc.), as well as ecosystem attributes including presence of competing butterflies and nectar availability. The goal is to understand where the butterfly occurs and why it occurs there in an effort to predict how the species may respond to future salt marsh habitat loss.

-Sam Mason