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Abstract

Eumaeus atala is an endangered tropical butterfly native to the Caribbean and some parts of Florida, USA. Following population reductions primarily due to habitat loss, E. atala populations are now increasing due to conservation efforts of its cycad host plants, especially Zamia integrifolia (coontie). The purpose of this study was to observe, document, and measure the population of wild E. atala on the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida campus of Nova Southeastern University where landscaping use of host plants supports a natural population of E. atala. Forty-four host plants located in two different sites were observed for 14 weeks. One site (Baseball Field) possessed most of the host plants (n=40) that were packed closely together in direct sunlight, while the other (Medicinal Garden) had smaller plants (n=4) that were spread out in a shaded environment. On each survey date each plant was inspected to quantify the number of larvae (caterpillars), hatched and unhatched pupae, and butterflies. Butterflies were observed on 8 of 14 observation dates. Most had recently emerged from chrysali, and some were observed laying eggs. Plants ranged in hemispheric area from 2.3 cm2 to 2,776.5 cm2. Larval densities ranged from 0 to 0.14 larvae cm-2, and 77.3% of the plants hosted larvae at some point during the observation period. The results of this study showed notable population increase of E. atala in the autumn, likely skewed by heavy rainfall and a tropical storm in the latter portion of data collection. This study documents the importance of native plant landscaping at NSU to support an endangered species, and these data can be used as a baseline for future studies.

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