MBS Background & Introduction

With at least 118 species native to Maine, butterflies contribute a colorful and conspicuous component to our state’s biological diversity.  Butterflies play an important ecological role in terrestrial and wetland ecosystems by serving both as pollinators of many wildflowers and as prey (both caterpillars and adults) to larger species ranging from dragonflies to neotropical migrant birds.  Butterflies are also widely recognized for their value as ecological indicators of ecosystem stress due to such factors as climate change, pollution, and habitat loss (Sparrow et al. 1994).  Their potential economic contribution in terms of “watchable wildlife” is difficult to estimate, but clearly no other group of insects has attracted as much attention from amateur naturalists and ecotourists, a group whose ranks increasingly include bird watchers armed with close-focusing binoculars in place of collecting nets.  Many neighboring state’s and provinces -- Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Brunswick -- have compiled updated atlases of their butterfly fauna, but despite growing local interest in butterflies and their conservation Maine has only a baseline level of knowledge of the group (See Webster and deMaynadier 2005 under “MBS Press & Publications” to download a baseline assessment of Maine’s butterflies).

There is an increasing demand from conservation planners for information on the status and distribution of all forms of wildlife in Maine.  The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) frequently receives requests for data on butterflies and moths from land trusts, environmental organizations, state permitting agencies, consulting biologists, and members of the general public.  This is in part because several of Maine’s butterfly species are of regional, national, and global conservation concern.  Of special note is the relatively high proportion (~20%) of Maine butterflies that are currently considered Historic or Extirpated (9 spp.), or state-listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern (15 spp.), a result consistent with global trends elsewhere for the group.  Greater statewide butterfly survey effort has demonstrated that some species are more widespread and abundant than formerly believed, while others are likely to merit increased conservation attention.  By marshalling the efforts of professional and citizen scientists from across Maine, this 8-year statewide butterfly atlas provided MDIFW and its partners with a significant increase in knowledge on the status and distribution of our state’s butterfly fauna, as well as geographic priorities for it’s conservation.