The project 'Research on the diversity and conservation of the butterflies of Semuliki National Park' aims to document butterfly species diversity of the park in combination with educating local communities on the importance of insect conservation . A current total of 546 butterfly species have been recorded so far in the park (as of 23/11/2023) - see species records and additions tab. This continues from fieldwork and reference material investigation that began in 2013 and which has contributed to over 200 newly recorded species for the park.
There are around 1240 butterfly species in Uganda, the fourth most species diverse African nation behind the DRC, Tanzania and Cameroon. There are also approximately 21 endemic species in Uganda. Semuliki National Park contains the most butterfly species of any park or reserve in Uganda and contributes to over 43% of Uganda's butterfly total.
One way to evaluate the significant biodiversity intactness of a forest and ultimately its conservation value is to measure where ecological assemblages remain intact, independent of any natural macroecological variations in species diversity or endemism. Long-term monitoring programmes can identify assemblage change (species abundance and diversity) from effects of habitat and climate change but unfortunately data deficiency of butterfly species in the biodiverse Afrotropical region is all to common.
In the absence of a long-term monitoring programme a quick tool of the measuring of taxonomic diversity (species occupancy and occurrence data) can often be used as an effective surrogate for determining targeted conservation management. In this respect the measuring of the fruit-feeding butterfly assemblage diversity within the park (which so far comprises over 150 species) can assist in the effort in defining a wilderness region or an intact forest landscape, and therefore increasing its conservation significance and the importance of protection.
Cymothoe ochreata. One of 15 species of this genus recorded at the park.
Field research on this assemblage began in 2013 as part of a now completed PhD ‘The ecology and conservation of a fruit-feeding butterfly assemblage in a Ugandan lowland rainforest’. The research included comparing the efficiency of two types of monitoring methodology on collecting diversity and abundance data from this assemblage; evaluating seasonal and spatial changes in assemblage species composition; species populations and range distribution and species habitat preferences. The possible effects of climate change on these forest-restricted species could then be evaluated, in tandem with research on this assemblage elsewhere in the Afrotropical realm.
With the possibility of no long-term monitoring programme in place at present research activities will focus on targeted opportunistic sampling and recording of the significant knowledge gap of the under-represented Families of Hesperiidae and Lycaenidae. Emphasis will also focus on any fruit-feeding assemblage composition restructuring. There are also opportunities to investigate single species life-histories. The two most common fruit-feeding butterflies in the park: Bebearia brunhilda and B. laetitiodes life histories are still unknown. Participation in our regular local community school educational visits promoting insect conservation is also an option.
Working within the forest also offers the opportunity of participating in conservation activities with local park rangers in a number of key objectives: locating and removal of snares that target small mammals (duikers) and birds; camera trap maintenance and invasive species management especially along the park road border.
There are no roads in the park and work is conducted in a forest that includes at least 63 species of mammal that includes forest elephant, leopard, forest buffalo, unhabituated chimpanzees and the recently recorded lowland bongo. Hippos and crocodiles are found along the shores of the Semliki River and there are over 440 predominantly Guineo-Congolian bird species.
Euphaedra eberti. One of 25 species of this genus recorded at the park.
Bebearia laetitioides males, B. brunhilda females and an E. medon male. B. laetitioides and B. brunhilda were by far the most abundant fruit-feeding butterflies.
All images by Lydia Messerschmidt.