Running a butterfly and dragonfly transect is a rewarding pastime! The methods are very straightforward. You simply mark out a route in advance – in our case around the edge of the survey box, from post to post, and along the edge of the road adjacent to the plot, again from post to post. You then walk at a steady pace along the transect, recording any butterfly or dragonfly that flies into an imaginary 5m by 5m box in front of you. Where the species is difficult to identify or new to the recorder, it is caught and stored for later identification. At the same time, other pieces of information can also be recorded, such as the weather conditions, any unusual features in the plot and more specific things, such as the behaviour and exact location of each insect. The data collection therefore amounts to a stroll through the plantation looking at insects!
Although not yet completed, our transects are already yielding interesting results. There are clear differences between the plantation interior and edge in terms of the species of dragonflies and butterflies found. For example, the tiny white butterfly, Leptosia nina, is only found under the palms and rarely ventures out of the shady areas, while the more robust and appropriately named Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide) prefers to live its life in the full heat of the sun. It is this kind of heterogeneity that can make a plantation more diverse and support a wider range of species.
To aid future identification and to provide a guide to common plantation species, we are also photographing the insects as the study proceeds. This is particularly important for dragonflies, which can lose their bright colours after they die, making them harder to identify. These resources form a key outcome of the project to foster continued biological surveys in this rapidly expanding habitat. A full species list and a downloadable identification guide to the species we have found will be posted on the ‘resources’ section of our website as soon as it is available.