DINA CAPPIELLO Staff writer
State Route 155 -- a k a New Karner Road -- may not be as aptly
named as you might think.
The four-mile-long thoroughfare -- which cuts through the heart
of the 2,700-plus-acre Pine Bush Preserve -- disrupts the movement
of Karner blue butterflies crossing the road to mate with others,
according to a new study by the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission.
Genetic variety is essential to sustain limited populations
in fragmented habitats like Pine Bush, where a patchwork quilt
of preserved space is interrupted by swaths of development.
Currently, two large populations of Karner blue butterflies
live on the west side of Route 155 and three small populations
live across the road. On the east side, preserve officials recently
planted blue lupine plants -- the only food the caterpillars
of the Karner blue butterfly will eat. In isolation, some of
the populations may not survive.
``If food plants are patchy, the populations are going to be
patchy. Having a lot of patches makes gene flow important in
between,'' said Kathryn Schneider, director of the New York
Natural Heritage Program.
Other rare local populations also have been jeopardized by
roads. Meadowdale Road in the Black Creek Marsh State Wildlife
Area and Route 157 in Thacher State Park have divided wetlands,
separating salamanders from the temporary ponds they return
to breed in each year. Last year, volunteers and scientists
estimated that 10 percent of the salamanders that tried to cross
the road ended up being squashed by passing cars.
In the Pine Bush this summer, scientists caught 476 of the
butterflies on the west side of Route 155, numbering each half-inch
wing with a felt-tip pen. They then spent 30 days, from 8 a.m.
to 6:30 p.m., scouring the brush on the other side of the street
hoping to recapture the precious creatures. Preliminary results
showed that only 10 successfully crossed the road that more
than 20,000 vehicles use each day.
``We certainly know some butterflies are getting killed. We
don't know what happened to those that didn't cross the road,''
said preserve ecologist Neil Gifford. ``Route 155 is at least
a partial barrier to the dispersal of the Karner blue butterfly.''
FACTS:POPULAR HABITAT In addition to the Karner blue butterfly,
the Pine Bush Preserve is home to 15 other rare insect species,
and scientists bumped into three of them (all butterflies) this
summer: Frosted elfin: A cousin of the Karner blue, the larvae
of this threatened species also feed exclusively on lupine plants.
Mottled duskywing skipper: Its caterpillars prefer to eat New
Jersey tea above all else, a plant that is threatened by deer
browsing. Wild indigo duskywing skipper: This species has not
been seen in New York for two decades. Source: Albany Pine Bush
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