Amidst the news of the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma on southern Florida to homes and communities, what gets lost is its effects on nature. Erica Henry, a student with Nick Haddad, studies an endangered butterfly (Bartram's Scrub Hairstreak) that lives in the spot where Irma's eyewall struck the Florida Keys. In addition to the driving wind and rain, storm surge covered the butterfly's habitat with three feet of water. Erica is left wondering: did it wash away the butterfly?
An irony led to their successful award of a National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID Grant: the butterfly needs severe disturbance to maintain its habitat and food source. Under more standard conditions, disturbance comes via fire or, as an alternative, people removing dense trees and shrubs. Erica had an experiment to test the effects of these types of disturbance. Now there is a second disturbance caused by a hurricane. Nick wondered, do these two disturbances in combination create even better habitat and increase butterfly numbers or do they together create a deadly cocktail and eliminate butterflies altogether?
"We were lucky that Erica had created a rigorous field experiment already, allowing a novel test of whether the disturbances act in synergy," Nick said.