LAX Expansion Creates Space for Rare Butterfly to Recover

LAX Expansion Creates Space for Rare Butterfly to Recover

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Butterfly Blue El Segundo-FWSThe El Segundo blue butterfly was near extinction when the town of Surfridge’s 800 homes were removed in the early 1970s, to make way for the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

In the decades since, the federally protected endangered species has made a comeback due to the establishment of a 200-acre butterfly preserve managed by the city. Nonnative plants were removed and native buckwheat — where the butterflies feed and lay their eggs — was reintroduced.

Known populations have since expanded from the largest population at the airport dunes. The reappearance of the butterfly in the neighborhoods of Redondo Beach and nearby Torrance has been a surprise.

First, previous scientific studies indicated the butterfly was relatively sedentary and typically did not fly distances farther than 200 feet (60 meters). The new sightings, however, challenge that notion. To arrive at its newfound locations, the El Segundo blue most likely flew across backyards from its nearest known habitat, thereby demonstrating that its dispersal capabilities are greater than once thought. Furthermore, this location may indicate that the species can naturally recolonize sites containing the native coastal dune vegetation upon which it depends.

Habitat restoration has played a key role in this butterfly’s return. Since 2003, native vegetation reintroduction along the coastal bluffs of Redondo Beach and Torrance has been conducted by residents, conservationists, government officials, and representatives from two nonprofit groups, The Urban Wildlands Group and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps Science, Education, and Adventure Lab program. The removal of non-native vegetation and the restoration of native scrub plants, such as coast buckwheat, California sunflower, deerweed, prickly pear cactus, and lupines, continue to this day. Restoration of coast buckwheat has been especially important because the El Segundo blue butterfly depends on this plant at each of its four life stages (egg, larva, pupa, and adult).

“It’s a remarkable recovery,” said Richard Arnold, an entomologist who has worked as a consultant at the preserve.

(READ more from the LA TimesMore info at Fish and Wildlife Service)