GAINESVILLE, Fla. University of Florida scientists publishing the first study on butterflies and moths of Guantanamo Bay Naval Station have discovered vast biodiversity in an area previously unknown to researchers.
Appearing in the Bulletin of the Allyn Museum Sept. 5, the study creates a baseline for understanding how different plant and animal species have spread throughout the Caribbean.
"Biodiversity studies are extremely important because they give us clues about where things were and how they evolved over time so we can better understand what may happen in the future," said study co-author Jacqueline Y. Miller, curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity on the UF campus. "We're also looking at climate change over time, and butterflies are biological indicator species since they are associated with particular plants as caterpillars and often found in particular habitats."
During a seven-day trip to the site in January, researchers collected 1,100 specimens representing 192 moth and 41 butterfly species, including the invasive lime swallowtail whose proximity to the U.S. poses a threat to citrus plants. Researchers are freezing tissue samples from many of the collected specimens for future DNA analysis and expect to later describe new species, said lead author Deborah Matthews Lott, a biological scientist at the museum.
"Guantanamo is a special area because it's a desert-type habitat due to the rain shadow effect from the mountains," Lott said. "There's fewer species there, but there's going to be a tendency for more specialized endemic species."
Leased to the United States in 1903, the land has unintentionally become a wildlife refuge, offering researchers the opportunity to better understand the island's natural habitats. Located in the southeast corner of Cuba, its unique and complex geological history of volcanic act
|Contact: Deborah Matthews Lott|
University of Florida