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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Mapping and conserving butterfly biodiversity in the Brazilian Amazon

PI: André Freitas (, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP)
U.S. Partner: Keith Willmott, University of Florida
Project Dates: January 2016 -  February 2018

Project Overview

4-478 Butterfly Search
A member of the research team searches the rainforest for butterflies (photo courtesy of Dr. Freitas).

The Amazon has some of the most diverse biological communities in the world, including butterflies, and recent expeditions by Dr. Freitas and his collaborators have found numerous poorly known or undescribed species. The PI and his team are involved in several projects on butterfly classification and evolution (systematics), but the Amazon is very poorly known in comparison with other regions of Brazil due to its sheer size and difficulties of transport. Given the insufficient knowledge of distribution and biology, conservation of faunas and species is currently not possible for the great majority of butterflies. In this project, the Brazilian research team will collaborate with a National Science Foundation-supported project at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the systematics of euptychiine butterflies, a highly diverse and abundant group in Amazonian forests, to sample new regions, build collections and provide vital capacity for research and conservation of Brazilian Amazonian butterflies. The researchers will compile data from numerous sources, including literature, databases, and specimens in major world museums, to improve our knowledge of Amazonian butterfly distribution. Poorly known groups or those containing species with restricted distributions, which are important both for understanding evolution and for conservation, will be targeted. A major goal of the project is to conduct up to eight expeditions to poorly sampled or unexplored areas of the Brazilian Amazon, including access by boat or light aircraft. Approximately 20,000 specimens will be collected during these expeditions, and these will be processed and databased. Mitochondrial cytochrome C oxidase 1 (COI) genes will be sequenced for some specimens to enable identification of cryptic species, where morphology alone is inconclusive.

Deforestation, exploitation for oil and gas, and climate change all threaten Brazilian Amazon biological communities. Butterflies are used as indicators of biodiversity and ecosystem health, as monitors of climate change, and as key species in biodiversity conservation. Butterfly distribution data therefore have great potential in identifying priority areas for conservation of Amazonian biodiversity, as has been done in many temperate countries. With the Brazilian Amazon playing a vital role in controlling South American and global climate, such data also provide a baseline for measuring future climate change in the region. This project will build capacity for research on Brazilian Amazonian butterflies by training graduate students and a postdoc and by strengthening collaborations among researchers and students in Brazil and with foreign institutions. The project will build substantial collections and online resources for future taxonomic, biogeographic, and conservation research, including enhancing major Brazilian butterfly collections with new material, archiving tissue samples for DNA study, and databasing specimens. The data collected will also be made available online via iDigBio, a major initiative for aggregating specimen data and sharing it with the public.

Summary of Recent Activities

In the third quarter of 2017, and eight-person PEER team of researchers, postdocs, and students visited three important places in the Amazon region (São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Alta Floresta, and Tumucumaque National Park). The visits were a success, with a highlight being the collection of important material from Cucui (near the Brazil/Colombia/Venezuela border), a region never before sampled for butterflies. The first studies including data gathered earlier during this project have already been published, and several more have been submitted to journals or are in preparation, incorporating findings from the most recent visits.

As of October 2017, the PI and his group are organizing two additional field trips, one to Maués or Tefé and the other to Mount Roraima, with the latter trip being much more difficult logistically. Additional expeditions will be organized after confirmation of each of the above mentioned expeditions with the objective of sampling different poorly sampled areas distant from each other. The season for catching butterflies is almost finished for 2017, so in the off season the team will be databasing and preparing scientific manuscripts. In addition, they are organizing a course on the biology and ecology of butterflies, which will be offered in in Campinas in February 2018.

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