Captive rearing of Puget blue butterflies (Icaricia icarioides blackmorei) and implications for conservation

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The use of captive rearing to promote recovery of endangered butterflies has substantially increased over the last decade. These programs have the potential to play a significant role in butterfly population recovery, but the effects of captive conditions are poorly understood and rarely are traits of captive individuals assessed relative to traits in their founding populations. To develop rearing protocols and investigate possible effects of captive conditions, we reared Puget blue butterflies (Icaricia icarioides blackmorei), a subspecies closely related to the endangered Fender's blue (I. i. fenderi) which is limited to Oregon, USA. We reared individuals from two wild populations in Washington, USA to investigate two approaches for egg collection (collect eggs in the wild vs. collect eggs from adult females which were brought to a greenhouse for oviposition) and three diapause environments (in indoor facilities at two independent locations vs. outdoors in enclosures). Survival from egg to adult was similar across all captive groups which survived past diapause and was less than 10%. Captive reared individuals were lighter and had smaller wings and shorter body lengths than their founding populations for both sites. Based on our findings, we recommend that rearing programs compare characteristics of reared individuals to individuals from the founding population to quantify possible effects of captive conditions, diapause individuals in natural environments, and for programs with survival rates similar to rates in the wild, consider alternatives to augment declining populations and reintroduce historic ones.

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