What does "remnant status" mean?

Butterflies at Fermilab with "remnant status"

Butterflies show up in all sorts of environments, but most species of butterflies live best in a certain type of place. People who study butterflies pay attention to where the butterflies are found and label butterflies as either "remnant-dwelling" or "landscape-dwelling."

"Remnant-dwelling" refers to a kind of butterfly that is usually found in undisturbed natural areas--places where people have not settled or been in a long time. Butterflies who are remnant-dwelling usually stay very close to the sort of plants they ate as a caterpillar and do not stray from the "home" natural area. A good example of a remnant-dependent butterfly" is the Eyed Brown, which is abundant in the wet meadows at Fermilab but is rarely found outside of them. There are two sorts of remnant-dwelling butterflies: those called "remnant-dependent," who must live in undisrupted areas and those called "remnant-associated," who just prefer to live in undisturbed areas.

"Landscape-dwelling" butterflies are more wide-ranging in their flight and generally not restricted to natural areas. They might have caterpillar food plants (called "host plants") that are common "weeds" and easy to find in many different places. Some landscape-dwelling butterflies are simply strong fliers that can live far from their host plants. These are typically the butterflies that you can see in a suburban back yard or city park, like the Monarch and the Red Admiral.

Since remnant-dwelling butterflies have specific habitat requirements, their presence tells something special about the quality of the local habitat. For example, the presence of the Eyed Brown, mentioned above, indicates that a meadow has not been recently planted or disturbed. So knowing what kinds of butterflies like different kinds of environments helps scientists and butterfly-lovers understand their own environment!

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