Bournemouth University

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How science saved the Large Blue butterfly

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Large Blue butterfly BU professor contributes to major research

The successful reintroduction of the Large Blue butterfly into the British countryside is the subject of a major paper co-authored by BU academic Professor Ralph Clarke.

The paper, Successful Conservation of a Threatened Maculinea Butterfly (or Large Blue butterfly), is published in Science, one of the world's highest rated journals for scientific research. The publication marks the second time in less than six months that BU expertise has featured in Science providing an excellent indicator of the University’s engagement in world-leading research.

At an accompanying event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the project to reintroduce the Large Blue, Sir David Attenborough, President of the national organisation Butterfly Conservation, said: “The restoration of the Large Blue butterfly to Britain is a remarkable success story, illustrating the power of ecological research to reverse damaging environmental changes.

“It is, moreover, a tribute to the dedication of many practical conservationists who have skillfully recreated its specialised habitat in our countryside.”

Professor Clarke said: “This paper in Science details the fascinating ecological relationships involved in the life cycle of the Large Blue butterfly which explain why the butterfly went extinct in Britain in 1979. It shows how these quantitative relationships were combined into a numerical model from which predictions could be made to support the butterfly’s successful reintroduction and spread into parts of southwest Britain over the past 25 years.”

The long-term Large Blue butterfly research and re-introduction project is led by Professor Jeremy Thomas of the University of Oxford and the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). “There are few known examples of a model being able to predict the success of a conservation effort as well as ours did, for any insect,” said Professor Thomas.

“We are confident that this detailed information will help those attempting to bring other endangered species back from the brink.”

Professor Clarke, an environmental statistician, has collaborated with Professor Thomas on butterfly and ant-related research for 25 years, including 20 co-authored scientific journal papers.

In this latest paper, published in Science, Professor Clarke helped assess and express quantitative aspects of the detailed relationships between the butterfly, ants and turf height, the overall butterfly life-cycle population model and its predictive success.

> Find out more about the about the return of the Large Blue butterfly (PDF 16KB) .

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