Invasivore.org has had fun developing novel ways to engage the public with invasive species, but what do you do with those invasives that aren’t so filling? Answer: Put down your fork and pick up your butterfly net! We’ll at least when the invasive is a butterfly. Invasive species are not only tasty, but can be useful to study how organisms adapt to new environments and climate change. This has led a group of PhD students (us!) to use an invasive butterfly species to do some good…science! By understanding how an invasive butterfly – the cabbage white (Pieris rapae) – has adapted as it spread across North America, they can gain insights as to how other butterflies may adapt to similar environmental changes. The citizen scientist creation they are calling “Pieris Project,” is a partnership with the public (you!) to collect this invasive butterfly from across the US, and soon the world! But, they are just getting started and need your help.
The cabbage white is believed to have invaded the entire US and most of North America as well as many other parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, and Japan; it’s pretty much everywhere but Antarctica. In North America, it all began in the late 1800s, as the butterflies were introduced from Europe and spread from eastern Canada across North America within only a few decades (there is also some evidence that there may have even been a few that invaded even earlier than the 1800s with the help of the Spaniards!). The caterpillars feed on many of our agriculture crops (plants in the mustard family such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and brussels sprouts), which is in part why they have been able to invade many parts of the world; these invasives are eating our food!
This year, the Pieris Project wants to collect at least 20 butterflies from each US state and as many countries from across the world as they can. Helping them reach this goal is easy, partly because these butterflies have invaded everywhere, including your backyard! To get involved is easy: visit the website (pierisproject.org) to learn how to catch them, where to send them and what cool things we hope to learn about these butterflies, such as: How are these butterflies adapting to changes in their environment? Where did this butterfly really come from – was it introduced from multiple countries and have they invaded multiple times? In order to answer these questions, and many more, they need your help. By catching a few from where you live you can join the many citizen scientists that are helping to use this invasive species to learn how other native species of butterflies will respond to changes in their environment, such as climate change, habitat destruction, and changes in land-use (e.g., effects of excess nitrogen in the environment).