Assessing risk for butterflies in the context of climate change, demographic uncertainty, and heterogeneous data sources

Matthew L. Forister, Eliza M. Grames, Christopher A. Halsch, Kevin J. Burls, Cas F. Carroll, Katherine L. Bell, Joshua P. Jahner, Taylor A. Bradford, Jing Zhang, Qian Cong, Nick V. Grishin, Jeffrey Glassberg, Arthur M. Shapiro, Thomas V. Riecke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Ongoing declines in insect populations have led to substantial concern and calls for conservation action. However, even for relatively well studied groups, like butterflies, information relevant to species-specific status and risk is scattered across field guides, the scientific literature, and agency reports. Consequently, attention and resources have been spent on a minuscule fraction of insect diversity, including a few well studied butterflies. Here we bring together heterogeneous sources of information for 396 butterfly species to provide the first regional assessment of butterflies for the 11 western US states. For 184 species, we use monitoring data to characterize historical and projected trends in population abundance. For another 212 species (for which monitoring data are not available, but other types of information can be collected), we use exposure to climate change, development, geographic range, number of host plants, and other factors to rank species for conservation concern. A phylogenetic signal is apparent, with concentrations of declining and at-risk species in the families Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae. A geographic bias exists in that many species that lack monitoring data occur in the more southern states where we expect that impacts of warming and drying trends will be most severe. Legal protection is rare among the taxa with the highest risk values: of the top 100 species, one is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act and one is a candidate for listing. Among the many taxa not currently protected, we highlight a short list of species in decline, including Vanessa annabella, Thorybes mexicanus, Euchloe ausonides, and Pholisora catullus. Notably, many of these species have broad geographic ranges, which perhaps highlights a new era of insect conservation in which small or fragmented ranges will not be the only red flags that attract conservation attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1584
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Anthropocene
  • Lepidoptera
  • butterfly
  • climate change
  • demographic uncertainty
  • extinction
  • heterogeneous data
  • hierarchical Bayesian model
  • population viability analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing risk for butterflies in the context of climate change, demographic uncertainty, and heterogeneous data sources'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this