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Wine Grape Vineyards May Help Butterfly Conservation

First Posted: May 12, 2015 09:40 AM EDT
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There may be more incentives to create wine. It turns out that wine grape vineyards are causing an increase in butterflies in Washington.

Over the years, loss in natural habitat has caused the decline of about 50 species of butterflies in eastern Washington. Now, though, there may be a way to combat this decline. Vineyards that are experimenting with sustainable pest management systems may be providing the habitat that these butterflies need.

In order to help control pests without the use of as many pesticides, growers actually plant native sage-steppe shrubbery in and around their vineyards. These native plants, such as desert buckwheat shrubs, attract "good" insects like parasitic wasps. These insects prey on mealybugs and other pests that would normally be harmful to the vineyards.

However, there's apparently an added side effect to encouraging "good" insects. It turns out that this method also encourages butterfly conservation.

"Conservation of butterflies is becoming an issue because all species are declining," said David James, one authors of the new paper, in a news release. "The habitat has been taken away by agriculture. This is a way of giving back. We're showing that an agricultural industry can live alongside the natural ecology and help preserve and conserve it."

The increase in butterflies isn't necessarily beneficial to vineyards, since butterflies don't eat pests or have any direct economic benefit. However, they naturally live on the native plants. In addition, they could serve as aesthetic appeal to attract tourists.

"To have butterflies flying around could be part of a tourism drive and an attraction for visitors," said James. "In these days of organic production and not wanting pesticides on food, butterflies can be a symbol of that. To show butterflies flying around vineyards has great aesthetic and commercial appeal."

The findings are published in the Journal of Insect Conservation.

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