Butterflies

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This week, the Silliman University Angelo King Center for Research & Environmental Management had the distinct privilege to host one of the world’s foremost authorities on butterflies.

The lecturer was Dr. Thomas C. Emmel, professor of Zoology and director of the famous McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, USA.

Professor Emmel, who was my schoolmate at Stanford University in California in the 1960s, gave a highly informative power-point lecture on the research and educational program of his Center. The lecture, held at the Silliman Multi-Purpose Center, was attended by about 80 people composed of students, teachers, and representatives of conservation organizations in Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental provinces.

The higher education institutions that responded to our invitation to attend the lecture were Silliman University, Negros Oriental State University, St. Paul University, Foundation University, and Negros State College of Agriculture.

Butterflies are a charismatic group of terrestrial organisms. Everybody loves them because they evoke the human aesthetic sense, and enhance the feeling and appreciation of the goodness of nature.

From the scientific point of view, butterflies attract both young and old because of their interesting life history and ecology that are full of wonderful events.

Butterflies have contributed to a better understanding of ourselves. A good example that Professor Emmel mentioned in his lecture is the genetic explanation why humans have four main blood types, which cannot be accounted for by the Mendelian laws.

The explanation, based on studies on butterflies, is the presence of multiple alleles (several forms of genes at one gene locus).

The Emmel lecture dealt with the international program of the McGuire Center which consists of research, education, and promotion of conservation of biodiversity.

The research deals with the sciences of systematics, ecology and evolution; these studies can be done by students using museum collections. The education program of the Center is a unique one as it encourages children and students to watch scientists at work so they become familiar with scientific methods. The museum exhibits and the butterfly gardens provide hands-on experience for the public, especially children who are curious about butterfly life history.

To promote its conservation program, Dr. Emmel and his team travel to many parts of the world building networks of collaboration with research organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions.

His first trip to the Philippines has resulted in a memoranda of agreement with the Department of Environment & Natural Resources, and universities such as the University of San Carlos on student support for graduate studies, setting up protected areas, etc.

From the lecture, it became clear that opportunities exist for people to build butterfly gardens and farms for scientific studies and for conservation of nature.

Thus far, few universities have engaged in setting up reserves for butterflies. In Dumaguete, St. Paul University is one of them.

Butterflies can also be farmed to provide supplementary incomes. But most importantly, butterfly reserves can help ensure that this group of animals will survive the changes now occurring on earth.

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