Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network

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Since its founding 30 years ago, the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network (IBMN) has served as a model for community science programs across the United States.

This model has been duplicated in a dozen other states, and even served as a template for other Illinois community science programs like the Illinois Odonate Survey. At its heart is the goal to track butterflies and gather data across Illinois.

About the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network

In 1987, the Nature Conservancy initiated the Northern Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network to explore the effects of habitat management on invertebrates. Doug Taron became the head of the program in 1989. When he joined Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1997, the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network became the institution’s flagship community science program soon after. Initially, the program monitored just seven sites in the Chicagoland area. As the number of IBMN volunteers grew, so did the number of monitored routes.

Today, the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network engages over 100 community scientists every year to collect quantitative data on butterfly populations on over 100 routes across Illinois. The goal is to provide data collected with a standardized protocol that allows land managers to evaluate long-term trends in a changing landscape. All across Illinois, community scientists are monitoring butterflies and providing scientists with critical data that paints a picture of where butterflies are thriving and how populations and habitats are changing.

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How Do Researchers Use This Data?

Butterflies are ideal indicator organisms. By observing them, we can monitor the effects of prescribed burns and other land management techniques, as well as get a glimpse into the overall health of or environmental change taking place in an area.

With 30 years of data, researchers can identify long-term population trends on a large group of insects. Those trends can give us a glimpse into environmental change. Some changes that have been observed over the last few decades may be attributable to a change in climate. Species from further south are also showing up with more frequency than they used to. It also appears that species that were at the southern edge of their range have retreated, which could signal that it’s becoming a little bit too warm for them here.

This information can also assist land managers in more effective conservation of the state’s butterflies. Land owners can evaluate long-term trends against management techniques to discover how they may help or hinder the species on that site.

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What Do IBMN Volunteers Do?

Interested volunteers attend training workshops in early spring to learn data collection protocol and learn how to identify common species. Volunteers are then assigned a route and are required to make at least six site visits between Memorial Day and the first week of August.

During these visits, volunteers use a standardized form to record the butterflies they observe on their route. These observations are then submitted at the end of the season.

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