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Climate Change Interns Study Butterflies And Brook Trout In The National Park System


Editor's note: Through its George Melendez Wright Climate Change Interns and Fellows program, the National Park Service enables university students to visit national parks to investigate issues related to climate change. Here are two more of the studies being investigated by students. Thanks to the Park Service's Climate Change Response Program for making the profiles available.

Preserving the Karner Blue Butterfly in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Over the summer, Tatyana Liakhova worked with NPS and USGS scientists in hopes of preserving populations of the federally endangered butterfly species called Karner Blue. As a GMW Intern, she was not only able to watch Karner Blue grow from a tiny egg to a full grown adult, but also worked on helping to prevent the extinction of these beautiful butterflies.

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Tatyana Liakhova is working to prevent the extinction of the Karner Blue Butterfly. NPS photo.

Ms. Liakhova collected field data on temperature variations, slope aspect, canopy cover, and shading in order to model and predict the specific effects of climate change on the lifecycle of the Karner.

Based on the Karner’s response to the documented temperature variations, it will be possible to recreate the most suitable conditions in order to stop further population loss. Another important part of her internship was to educate the public about climate change research and the importance of diversity preservation at Indiana Dunes by creating field signs and information for the park’s educational websites.

“Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a fascinating place teeming with diverse plant and animal life," says Ms. Liakhova. "Overall, knowledge gained through this internship has broadened my understanding about climate change and the ways to fight it. It has solidified my decision to become an environmental chemist in hopes of preventing further climate change.”

Brook Trout at the St. Croix Riverway

Patrick Shirey is a PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame in the Department of Biological Sciences. In his dissertation research, he takes an interdisciplinary approach to informing ecological restoration and environmental policy by merging the disciplines of ecology, history, and law.

Mr. Shirey worked with National Park Service personnel at St. Croix National Scenic Riverway to review the fish habitat history of the cold-water zone of the wild and scenic Namekagon River to determine probable causes for the decline of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in the system. Because of the added legal protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Namekagon River offers a special opportunity to protect the unique biological resources and native species provided by cold-water river systems in Wisconsin, including the brook trout. 

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Patrick Shirey hopes to pinpoint why brook trout are declining in the Namekagon River. NPS photo.Based on historic descriptions of brook trout abundance and the relatively low populations at present, they were able to infer that brook trout were abundant in the mainstem of the Namekagon River before logging in the late 1800s and declined soon thereafter.


In Mr. Shirey’s research on the history of the Namekagon, he noticed a gap in historical temperature records, demonstrating a need for a survey of system-wide temperature to inform NPS management efforts directed at protecting and restoring cold-water habitat for brook trout. Temperature is a limiting factor for brook trout that could be compromised by land-use change and climate change affecting groundwater inputs.

However, brook trout can move to find thermal refuge in summer, if cold-water refuge is present in groundwater-fed pools or tributaries.

By identifying areas of thermal refuge for brook trout populations, the research can inform NPS plans to protect, restore, and manage brook trout habitat in the face of a changing climate. In addition to deploying 95 temperature loggers, the Notre Dame field crew and NPS surveyed fish populations in tributaries to determine areas that currently serve as refuge for brook trout and other cold-water species.

The brook trout are just one of the many species important to maintaining a healthy ecosystem on the Namekagon.


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