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Use scientific research to shape the future of conservation efforts for a rare butterfly species


   School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Helen Hicks  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Silver-Studded Blue (Plebejus argus) is a small butterfly found mainly in heathland habitats. It has a restricted distribution and has undergone major population declines throughout most of its range. 

The National Trust and Butterfly Conservation are considering a project to reintroduce P. argus to Clumber Park, the last known site for this species in Nottinghamshire. The butterfly is an obligate myrmecophile requiring association with ant species such as Lasius niger to complete its lifecycle. To increase the likelihood of successful reintroduction, it is crucial that butterfly eggs/ caterpillars are placed within foraging range of a host ant nest to maximise the chance of them being taken back into the nest for protection against predation and parasites until they pupate and emerge as adult butterflies. In 2022 an ant survey mapped the distribution of ant nests across the proposed reintroduction site, but vital research questions on ant foraging ranges and host ant species specificity remain. Understanding this is crucial to achieving a successful reintroduction of the SSB butterfly. 

In collaboration with The National Trust and the University of York this project gives you the opportunity to study three aspects of the Silver-Studded Blue ecology: First, using mesocosm experiments you will examine the specificity of mutualistic interactions between the larvae of the Silver-Studded Blue butterfly and various ant species. You will quantify the cost and/or benefits of pupae interactions with different ant species. 

Second, using field surveys and experiments, you will investigate the complexities of interactions influencing foraging distances of ants from different sized colonies, in different microhabitats at different times of year. 

Third, you will explore oviposition preferences of adult butterflies for egg laying. This will be carried out using oviposition observations and by conducting egg count surveys to look at preferred vegetation types and degrees of shelter. 

Overall, you will investigate multiple aspects of the lifecycle of the Silver-Studded Blue to inform conservation efforts to expand the species’ current range in the Midlands of the UK. 

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