PhD student Julia Simons
PhD student Julia Simons

As the UN Summit on Biodiversity takes place in New York this week, the Biology department at Edge Hill University is leading a new study to save the UK’s most threatened butterfly.  

PhD student Julia Simons is leading the research project on the High Brown Fritillary butterfly (Fabriciana adippe), which is listed as critically endangered on The Butterfly Red List for Great Britain 

The study is the first to determine which micro-habitat features are most important for the species, with a focus on the vulnerable early stages of its life cycle. 

As insects account for around 90% of all global species, the health of worldwide ecosystems depends on their survival. 

Julia’s research will also assess how the micro-habitat changes over the course of the year between egg-laying and larval emergence, and whether current management techniques and the influence of changing environmental conditions contribute to these changes.  

She said: “This species has seen population declines of 85% over 10 years and now remains in just four locations in the UK.  Existing evidence suggests that their micro-habitats are becoming grassier and cooler in the long-term, potentially causing the larvae difficulty in finding enough food and warmth to develop upon emergence in the spring. 

“If we are to conserve the remaining populations, it is vital that we understand the impact of micro-habitat changes on the whole life cycle, as well as understanding the drivers behind these changes. I hope to identify if these changes affect the female’s ability to choose egg-laying locations which will be the most beneficial to their larvae the following spring.” 

With support from local landowners, Butterfly Conservation and collaborators at Lancaster University, fieldwork started in Cumbria this year to identify the micro-habitats where these butterflies lay their eggs.   

Next year, habitat management techniques will be trialled to assess their impact on the vegetation and their ability to create suitable breeding conditions. 

The results of this research will inform recommendations for the future management of the High Brown Fritillary. The new knowledge will be used to provide optimum breeding habitats, giving the species the best opportunity to re-colonise new and historic sites.   

For more information about the range of Biology courses on offer at Edge Hill, visit our subject page.