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The butterfly conservatory at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona: New butterfly-plant rearing facilities for research and outreach

On May 2022 a new facility was set at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona (IBB): The butterfly conservatory, a multifunctional space for both research and outreach purposes.

The butterfly conservatory is a project led by the researcher Gerard Talavera and the Phylomigration Lab within the “Entomology and Insect-Plant Interactions” research group. This new facility will allow breeding and maintaining colonies of several species of butterflies and their host plants, with the aim of investigating questions of interest about their behaviour, ecology and evolution. The butterfly conservatory is also intended as a live butterfly exhibit with an emphasis on education. It will operate as a part of the Butterfly Migration, citizen science programme, a project to raise awareness of the migratory phenomenon in butterflies and to promote participatory science to monitor their movements and breeding sites around the world. The IBB promotes scheduling visits where people can observe the butterflies in their different stages of development and talk to the researchers about the citizen science that is closely linked to their research.

Location of the butterfly conservancy at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona.

Moreover, thanks to the collaboration with the Associació d’Amics del Jardí Botànic (AAJB), the weekend guided tours at the Botanical Garden of Barcelona (JBB) now include a visit to the butterfly conservatory as an additional attraction. Located at the esplanade in front of the IBB, within the public accessible area in the Botanical Garden, a stop-off to the butterfly conservancy can also complement the visits to the Salvador’s Cabinet and the exhibition “Més que abelles. Pol·linitzadors i flors: la vida en joc”, as it is also attractive from the outside. As this is a glass greenhouse, it is possible to observe some of the elements inside, such as caterpillars eating leaves, or adults nectaring in the flowers. With the help of informative panels, it will be possible for the visitors to quickly immerse themselves in the world of the butterflies. The new facility will also be available to other groups such as audiovisual content creators, as in the case of the Psyche, project, a documentary on the butterflies occurring in the city.

Three autochthonous species of butterflies are found in the butterfly conservancy: The painted lady (Vanessa cardui), the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), two common migratory species in Catalonia, and Pieris rapaea butterfly that can cause damage to cabbage crops. Furthermore, some of the specific hostplants required by the caterpillars to develop can be found too. Among others, mallows (Malva spp) and thistles (i.e Cirsium spp, Silybum marianum) for V. cardui, spreading pellitory (Parietaria judaica) and nettles (Urtica spp) for V. atalanta, and cabbages (Brassica spp) for P. rapae. In addition, a wide variety of flowering plants provide nectaring sources for the adult butterflies to feed on, and trees provide shade, shelter, and a heterogeneous habitat.

Inside the butterfly conservancy, visitors can observe and photograph the butterflies and their interactions with the plants.

The new facility, which will be operational all year round, will increase the repertoire of educational and outreach activities regularly taking place at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona (IBB), and therefore this initiative will participate in the shared effort to bring science closer to the public. Likewise, and together with the recent acquisition of other scientific instruments, including thermoregulated growing chambers and a high-sensitivity respirometer, the butterfly conservancy will also allow researchers to face new research challenges on the physiology and behaviour of butterflies.

This project has the collaboration of:

Authors: Joan Pere Pascual-Díaz, Alessandra Lombardi and Gerard Talavera

Nomenclatural type catalogue