Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has not conducted any formal assessment on the conservation status of morpho butterflies and has not explicitly designated their species as threatened ones, nature-lovers around the world are understandably concerned about the morphos' general well-being.
Morpho butterflies are neotropical animals - they inhabit the rainforests of Central and South America.
Over the last several decades, tropical ecosystems have come under enormous pressure forced upon them mostly by human demands.
Rainforests are ubiquitously cleared for "cash-crop" plantations (ex., coffee) and pastures for livestock. Plantations and pastures provide livelihoods for local people.
But clearance of rainforests means loss of habitat for butterflies and many other plant and animal species which depend on the forests for their basic biological needs.
Habitat loss is, no doubt, one major cause that can seriously endanger morpho butterflies in the long-run.
It also leads to the loss of biodiversity on a wider, global scale as well.
Research shows that butterflies tend to be attracted to areas with a high diversity of trees and other plants (ex., riparian forests). This happens because such locations provide them with more options for obtaining food - nectar and rotting fruits.
On the other hand, areas with lower plant diversity (ex., secondary forests) host smaller butterfly numbers than biologically richer areas. (Ref. 1)
Thus we are led to conclude that morpho butterflies conservation should, first and foremost, focus on habitat preservation.
Somehow, we need to make sure that forests are not destroyed by some big corporations or unscrupulous individuals alike seeking to enrich themselves at the nature's expense.
Second, in order for conservation to be successful, all stakeholders have to be taken into account.
Farmers and other local inhabitants will always play the most important role in rainforest conservation. They live on forested (or deforested) lands and they certainly know their value, but if they can't feed their families - nothing will persuade them "to preserve the nature".
And animals, such as morpho butterflies, end up being caught in between a rock and a hard place.
That is why it is crucial to find a compromise, so to say, between the local people's needs and the nature.
I have seen many experts referring to silvopastoral systems as a possible solution to meet the needs of "all the parties".
Here is how silvo pastures work.
Pastures with grazing domesticated animals (ex., cows) are planted with trees - thus creating a mini-forest, hopefully, with many different species of trees as opposed to just a single one.
Animals roam and feed on grass or crops around the trees. The tree cover remains intact and can become an excellent home for other animals, in our case morpho butterflies.
So farmers make an income from their cattle, trees are intact and a multitude of animals thrive in a completely natural environment.
We could probably call it a contribution of silvo pastures to morpho butterflies' habitat restoration.
Indeed, if "silvopastoral systems [can potentially] increase habitat quality, quantity and connectivity in pasture dominated landscapes" (ref. 2), they are certainly worth a try.
Most rainforest animals who are now endangered suffer from rainforest destruction in one way or another. Morpho butterflies are no exception - except that they have not yet been formally identified as "endangered".
The fundamental cause of all rainforest destruction is an excessive demand for rainforest products (ex., foods & timber).
This excessive demand inevitably leads to over-exploitation of rainforest resources. Too many crops are extracted from rainforests without giving them a chance to regenerate themselves. Too many trees are cut down for timber without giving them a chance to re-grow.
Have a look at the chart below - it demonstrates very well how accelerated demand affects the rainforests.
Our biggest challenge is to persuade people around the world to CONSUME LESS of everything.
This is one real, fundamental solution to deforestation and habitat loss for animals.
And ... it can certainly help save morpho butterflies as well.
Written by: Irina Gray of Tropical-Rainforest-Animals.com
Publication Date: November 2012
© Irina Gray & Tropical-Rainforest-Animals.com
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