"Responses in butterflies to loss and fragmentation
of boreal forests from in situ oil sands"
M.Sc., Ph.D. candidate - University of Alberta, ACE Lab and LRIGS
General Service Building, 730 - Edmonton (AB) T6G 2H1 CANADA
Tuesday, 20 February h. 14:30
Aula 2, Department of Life Science and Systems Biology - Via Accademia Albertina 13, Torino
Loss and degradation of habitat represent the first and most immediate threat to biodiversity conservation. Alberta's oil sands extraction has captured global interest because of its vast environmental impact, but most of this attention is focused on surface mining, despite 97% of Alberta's oil sands being deep underground requiring "in situ" extraction via subsurface wells. These, in turn, require seismic (cut) lines, roads, and cleared well pads that result in little overall habitat loss (< 20% forest cover), but substantial levels of habitat fragmentation. Seismic lines are the largest source of forest fragmentation in oil sands and reducing their width has been used as a mitigation practice, although few studies (focused on vertebrates and plants) have tested the efficacy of this practice. Despite insects being sensitive to disturbances at small spatial scales and over short time frames, little is known about how local changes in habitat from in situ oil sands affect this group. My research addresses this issue for butterflies (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea) under the following questions: (1) how does the butterfly assemblage change as a function of disturbance types versus measures of landscape change; (2) do seismic lines direct movements of a generalist butterfly species, arctic fritillaries (Boloria charicela) (3) does one of the rarest forest species, the cranberry blue (Plebejus optilete), respond negatively to disturbance; and (4) do anthropogenic and wildfire disturbances interact to promote refugia of butterfly populations within burned forests?