Preliminary Results on Surveys of Lepidoptera of The Bahamas

Presented by Jacqueline Miller

Jacqueline Miller, Deborah Lott, Mark Simon, Gary Goss, Rick Rozycki, and Nancy Albury

Lepidoptera as model study organisms are critical in studies of biodiversity in the Caribbean Basin and especially in The Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos Islands. These insects are excellent bioindicators of particular habitats and habitat quality and are associated with specialized hostplants and involved in pollination. There are currently 84 butterflies (102 taxa) recorded from The Bahamas. However, our knowledge of the moths is very limited and in fact there has never been a complete published checklist of the total Lepidoptera recorded in The Bahamas. Moths account for approximately 95% of Lepidoptera worldwide and some of the current patterns are reflected in the geological history of the islands. The origin of Bahamian Lepidoptera may be derived from Florida or Central America but also from the West Indies, especially Cuba and Hispaniola. The lepidopteran fauna recorded from Florida (3,000) is rather large compared to Cuba (1,590), which based on the size and topography of the latter, should number about 3,500. Given the proximity of Cuba and Florida to The Bahamas, we estimate that there should be approximately 2,000 species. Although we have completed biodiversity surveys on the total Lepidoptera since 2008, we embarked on surveying total Lepidoptera on 12 major islands in The Bahamas in 2014 and 2015. Our goals were to develop and publish an annotated checklist, describe new taxa and list new records of species present, and complete comparative analyses on the biodiversity and biogeography to determine lepidopteran endemism present within the Lucayan Archipelago. Due to urban development and habitat fragmentation, species originally recorded on some islands have resulted in local extinctions. Invasive species have also been introduced and these compete for resources with the native species. Changes in weather patterns including weather patterns and tropical storms play a significant role in the geographic distribution and movement of Lepidoptera in the Caribbean Basin. Lepidoptera are highly visible and serve to promote education and public knowledge of these iconic organisms. Such studies as these provide supportive documentation for conservation management and ecotourism in addition to the more traditional studies on biogeography, biodiversity and ecology. Through these efforts, we can foster value and appreciation of the natural resources in The Bahamas by future generations of residents and ecotourists alike.

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