Friday, September 7, 2012

An unconventional field site

Scientists from the Florida museum published the first study on butterflies and moths of Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and discovered large biodiversity in an area previously unknown to researchers and one you wouldn't normally think of when it comes to plan field work. Appearing hopefully soon in the Bulletin of the Allyn Museum, the study creates a baseline for understanding how different plant and animal species have spread throughout the Caribbean.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Station
One of the authors, Jacqueline Miller says, "Biodiversity studies are extremely important because they give us clues about where things were and how they evolved over time so we can better understand what may happen in the future.We're also looking at climate change over time, and butterflies are biological indicator species since they are associated with particular plants as caterpillars and often found in particular habitats."

In January, researchers collected 1,100 specimens representing 192 moth and 41 butterfly species, including the invasive lime swallowtail whose proximity to the U.S. poses a threat to citrus plants. The researchers also froze tissue samples from many of the collected specimens for future DNA Barcoding analysis.

Leased to the United States in 1903 (although this is disputed by Cuba), the land has unintentionally become a wildlife refuge, offering researchers the opportunity to better understand the island's natural habitats. "Because it is a military base -- and this is true for many military bases, which typically have large areas of land -- people are not trampling, bulldozing or developing the land," says Roger Portell, another author of the study. "So there is a large area of land in the southeast corner of the island that has basically been untouched for 100 years."

Indeed such pristine environments can often be found on many military bases or similarly protected areas. A good example for the latter is the former border separating West and East Germany. It was estimated that around 600 threatened species of animals and plants were given a free rein in a no man’s land overshadowed by minefields, metal fences and watchtowers. Today the former border is turned into a unique chain of nature reserves running for nearly 1,400km in a gentle zigzag from the Vogtland region, near the German-Czech border in the south, to the Baltic Sea in the north, to form what is called the green belt.

This could serve as a good example what to do with such areas once the military has given them up. I haven't given up the hope that this happens to Guantanamo Bay one day.

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