Climate change and the increasing average temperature of the earth are continuously impacting the Himalayan region of India. Now, even the butterflies of this region are also affected by it. The rising average temperature in the Himalayan region has forced about 18 species of butterflies living on the mountains to go to higher altitudes. There is a difference of more than 1,000 meters between their current and previously recorded average place elevation.
Climate change in the Himalayan regions are forcing butterflies to seek higher altitudes.
Seven species are now living more than 2,000 meters higher compared to the previous location. These include the Trachea Eriplinae (Noctuidae), Actias Windbrechlini (Saturniidae), and Diphtherosome Fasciata (Noctuidae) of insect species with elevations of 2,800 meters, 2,684 meters, and 2,280 meters, respectively.
Tailless Bushblue butterflies were earlier found at an altitude of 2,500 meters while now they are found at an altitude of 3,577 meters at the Ascot Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand. Indian Red Admiral Butterfly was found at 3,900 meters till now in Ladakh, now it is being found at 4,853 meters. During the research, 484 species of butterflies have been reported to change habitat in all major Indian Himalayan regions such as Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.
Butterflies are considered environmental indicators. It means that if they chose to use their habitat in the lower places, then the climate of that place is favorable to them and the air is clean and the temperature is good for them. When I asked the biologist of Delhi Biodiversity Park, Dr. Faiyaaz Mudassar about this, he told me that petrol contains heavy metals and when vehicles are moving, there is heavy metal pollution. They accumulate on the stems of nectar-bearing plants producing heavy metal juices and cause heavy damage to them. It has a direct effect on the number of butterflies because they depend on those plants.
Dr. Fayaaz says that India has been suffering from climate change for a long time and now its effect has reached the Himalayan regions of the country. Haze & Smoke are (Haze is a reduction of transparency of a clear gas or liquid while Smoke is the visible vapor, gases, and fine particles given off by burning or smoldering material) fatal for butterflies and whenever there is haze and smoke, the time of development of larvae increases. The death rate of caterpillars also increases so the healthy butterflies do not flourish.
Referring to the complete lockdown of last year, Dr. Fayyaz said that there were quite positive results due to the reduction of smoke and haze. During that time the impact of climate change had reduced to a great extent. Blue Jay, Blue Moorman, South Birdwing, Tree Nymph, and Andaman Crow which were not seen also started appearing at that time.
As earlier mentioned, butterflies are environmental indicators and are helpful in pollination (the act of transferring essential elements from plant to plant). As much lower the temperature of their habitat, the easier the process of pollination will take place. The above process is directly affected by climate change in the Himalayan region.
Butterflies act as ‘coordinators’ of the food chain, having an important role in pollination. But, butterflies are constantly shifting their habitat at higher altitudes. When I asked about it, Dr. Ayesha Sultana, a scientist working on butterflies in Aravali Biodiversity Park, said that butterflies are even more important than tigers for the environment. They have an important contribution in advancing the trees, and plants. If there will be no butterflies, then within five years the food from nature will cease to exist. Because butterflies make food chains. They form such a foundation for the whole nature so that the whole food chain evolves around that.
Dr. Sultana says that even with the legal angle, the first schedule of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, made for the protection of wildlife, mentions many such species of butterflies which are in danger today. Species such as Blue Mormon, Danned Egg Fly, Great Egg Fly, Black Raja are a few which are listed under the category of ‘Critically Endangered’.
Butterflies are important in many natural activities. Butterflies are more useful than bees in the pollination of plants. Bees pollinate only a few plants while butterflies are attracted to many host plants such as Rand, Grapes, Lemon, Nectar plant, plants like Putus, Ixora, Marigold.
Biodiversity is an important factor for the protection of butterflies whose five pillars are – crops, trees, animals, micro-organisms, and birds. They all contribute to farming and are important parts of nature. The more diversity there is, the more fertile power of the land grows. It is mandatory to cover all the points of the food chain.
Dr. Jagbir Singh is an expert on zoology and has researched butterflies for the last 35 years.
Dr. Jagbir Singh, Retd. dean of the Department of Zoology, Punjabi University, who has researched butterflies for the past 35 years and published more than 300 research papers on them, said that “I have experienced over the years that due to the rising temperatures, species of butterflies found in the lower Himalayan regions are now being found even in areas like Bharmour and Dalhousie. The butterflies are ectothermic ie cold-blooded and their habitat is determined by the ambient temperature. That’s why butterflies are effecting by climate change consequences and if we have to stop it, forest cover will have to be increased in our Himalayan states at any cost.”
“Habitat change of butterflies will also have disastrous consequences”. If the range expansion (the process of changing habitat) continues in this proportion, change in flowering season will occur in all areas of the Himalayan region. These changes will ruin the entire food chain and cause food loss,” added Dr. Jagbir.
Many Himalayan areas are also beginning to undergo worrisome changes. The Forest Department of Uttarakhand has found in a survey that 4 major plants of the state are growing 4 months ahead of the season. These include the state fruit of Uttarakhand, Kaafal (Saussurea Obvallata).
When I spoke to Ankit Ranjan Pathak working for butterfly conservation, he gave some suggestions which are as follows –
Vishal produced this story under a fellowship supported by TERI and Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.
Feature Image credits: Wikimedia Commons