Rachel Jones, Senior Ecologist at Butterfly Conservation, is currently researching the highly restricted Lulworth Skipper in Dorset, funded by a NERC iCASE Studentship with the University of Exeter and Butterfly Conservation.
When did you become part of the Butterfly Conservation team?
I started working at BC in 2012 after completing an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation. My Master's research project was on the Marsh Fritillary and I spent a short volunteer placement working on Lulworth Skipper. I joined the team as an Assistant Conservation Officer but my role has since evolved and I'm lucky to have a varied job which includes developing and delivering conservation projects, conducting species surveys, meeting with our MP Species Champions and collating data for species reports.
What is the subject of your PhD?
My PhD aims to understand what effects a changing climate and habitat management have on the Lulworth Skipper butterfly. Unlike other species, the distribution of the Lulworth Skipper has remained largely unchanged. I am aiming to research if, and by what mechanisms, the Lulworth Skipper could expand its range under climate warming and also, to better understand its specific requirements. We are lucky to have a unique dataset comprising population and habitat data from full distribution surveys led by Professor Jeremy Thomas in 1978 and by Dr Nigel Bourn in 1997 and 2010.
What are you discovering about this highly restricted butterfly species?
Just how much we don’t know about this butterfly! I am only a year into my PhD and have a lot left to discover, however one of the key observations we’ve made is how the phenology differs across its distribution. It will be interesting to investigate this and determine whether links exist between foodplant quality and observed population dynamics.
What has been the highlight of the PhD so far?
There have been a few. I do not think there is anyone who wouldn’t enjoy a summer conducting butterfly surveys along the beautiful Purbeck coastline! Other highlights include presenting my first talk on 'factors influencing population change of Lulworth Skipper' at the 2018 Butterfly Conservation International Symposium. I also enjoyed meeting other PhD students and researchers at this event. I'm proud to have worked with the National Trust and their volunteers to implement management trials, which will help us better understand what the Lulworth Skipper needs from in situ management (e.g. turf structure, litter).
I’ve a lot yet to do, however my initial focus will be using data collected this summer from sites outside the current distribution in metapopulation models. I aim to investigate why potentially suitable habitat in West Dorset remains unoccupied and whether this is linked to isolation, habitat quality and availability or another factor (e.g. microclimate).
Meet the team