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2024 DeWind Awards Fund New Research on Moth Conservation in Urban Areas

By Kevin Burls on 14. May 2024
Kevin Burls

Every year, the Xerces Society gives out at least two DeWind Awards to students pursuing research into Lepidoptera conservation. Established by Bill DeWind in honor of his wife Joan, the DeWind Awards help support the next wave of butterfly and moth conservationists. This year, we are excited to announce the winners of two $10,000 awards: Lillian Hendrick and Lucy Guarnieri! 


Lillian Hendrick

Hendrick is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology at the University of Florida, and is studying a group that is quite literally, easily overlooked: micromoths! Micromoths are moths that are very tiny, often under 10 millimeters in wingspan. However, not all micromoths are close relatives; several different families of moths have evolved to be “micro”. Hendrick is hoping to discover which species of micromoths live in different habitats, ranging from more rural to more urban.


A white woman with glasses and wearing a purple hoodie, smiling at a large fuzzy caterpillar that is crawling over her right hand.
Compared to the moths she will be studying, the wooly bear caterpillar Hendrick is holding is quite gigantic. (Photo: Lillian Hendrick).


To learn which species live where, they will collect micromoths from 9 different field sites, and compare their DNA in order to identify them. Hendrick will also use this opportunity to learn more about the lives of these moths. One question is about any potential changes in each species’ phenology: when in the year adult moths are out flying. They will also test for the presence of Wolbachia, a special bacteria that is found in many moths and butterflies (as well as some other bugs). Wolbachia often causes several (mainly negative) effects on reproduction of infected individuals. 


A very small moth perches atop a plant with clusters of tiny yellow flowers. The moth is a shiny deep purple, and has two very long greyish blue antennae.
Many tiny moths like this southern longhorn moth (Adela caeruleella) feed on flower nectar as adults and can be important pollinators (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson).


Lucy Guarnieri

Guarnieri is a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at The Ohio State University, and is studying how cities can support more moth species. Guarnieri plans to compare which species live in different areas of central Ohio, to figure out how different habitat management strategies, and habitat sizes, affect moth diversity. To accomplish this, Guarnieri will collect moths once a month throughout the summer in a combination of managed grassland-style parks, urban pollinator gardens, and mowed turf fields. They will then compare how the moth species present change between habitats and with factors like flower abundance and light pollution levels. 


A white woman standing in a wildflower field, next to a set of equipment for collecting moths and surveying plant species. In the background, a road and houses show that this is in an urban setting.
Guarnieri is passionate about finding ways we can build cities that allow wildlife to thrive, even near roads and buildings. (Photo: Lucy Guarnieri).


Some cities have implemented projects, like diverse grasslands and urban gardens that aim to provide habitat for pollinators. When measuring the benefits of these habitats, most research is about daytime pollinators, like bees and butterflies. However, many pollinators, like most moths, are nocturnal, and are worth considering. Guanieri’s research will help cities create habitats that support a greater diversity of pollinators.


A moth sitting atop a plant with many small white flowers. The moth’s wings are a dark grey, with orange on its head, and blue on its back.
Moths like this Virginia ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica) can benefit from strategies that provide resources for pollinators in urban areas (Photo: Karin Jokela / Xerces Society)


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As a conservation biologist for the endangered species program, Kevin’s efforts with the Xerces Society focus on protecting the hundreds of butterfly species that inhabit deserts, forests, and grasslands across the western United States. Many of these species are currently in decline or are threatened by habitat loss, insecticides, and the effects of climate change.

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