Tales of urban conservation: Eumaeus butterflies and their threatened cycad hostplants

Abstract

Urbanization has caused the local extinction of several butterfly species around the world, while others have managed to thrive in urban areas. Butterflies of the genus Eumaeus are among the most striking and colorful lycaenid butterflies in the Americas, but their neurotoxic hostplants, cycads, are a highly threatened plant group. The main threats for cycads are the loss and modification of their habitats and their removal for ornamental purposes, which in addition to their slow growth rate, make them highly vulnerable. Ornamental cycads are taken from natural habitats to urban areas, where they are playing an important role for Eumaeus reproduction. We here report two cases in which two Eumaeus species (E. childrenae, E. atala) are following and utilizing ornamental cycads to reproduce in urban areas, showing how significant urban areas can be, ecologically speaking. Aside from having enormous potential as flagship species for conservation in urban areas, these butterfly and plant species, and their interactions, shed encouraging light on the idea of putting reconciliation ecology ideas into action.

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Acknowledgments

We are most grateful to Keith R. Willmott and Madhusudan Katti for their comments and suggestions to a previous version of this work. Andrew Vovides provided valuable information about the cycads of Xalapa. SK thanks the dedicated volunteers who help monitor the Atala butterfly colonies throughout southeast Florida. LR-R acknowledges the scholarship and financial support provided by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT 213179/244461, Convocatoria 290649), COLCIENCIAS (Convocatoria 568-2012), and the Doctoral Program of INECOL.

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Correspondence to Ian MacGregor-Fors.

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Ramírez-Restrepo, L., Koi, S. & MacGregor-Fors, I. Tales of urban conservation: Eumaeus butterflies and their threatened cycad hostplants. Urban Ecosyst 20, 375–378 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-016-0599-0

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Keywords

  • Cycads
  • Hostplants
  • Urban ecology
  • Lycaenidae
  • Eumaeus childrenae
  • Eumaeus atala