re-examination of the history of the threatened Bay checkerspot
butterfly as a test case for interactive digital environmental
re-examination of the sources used to construct the dominant
historical narrative of the sweeping transformation of California's
grasslands by overgrazing, invasive annual grasses, and drought
in the 19th century reveals spatial and temporal contradictions
and complications. The dominant narrative, constructed largely
by ecologists and geologists, has argued that the only spaces
where native plant communities could survive were limited areas
of nutrient poor, chemically harsh soils called serpentine.
These relict spaces were conceived as areas where succession
had stopped. And in order to preserve California's native grasslands
it was argued that these areas had to be protected from disturbance
such as grazing and fire.
A new spatial and temporal analysis using a newly digitized
database of records from a consortium of 16 academic herbaria
in California, along with additional historical observations
from the 19th century and early 20th century, suggests the persistence
of a more heterogeneous plant community across a wider space
over a longer period of time. This analysis focuses on a threatened
butterfly, Euphydryas editha editha or the Bay checkerspot,
which is currently only found on serpentine soils, and the plants
upon which it depends.
dominant historical narrative of the transformation of California's
grasslands has been used to explain the butterfly's demise and
shape conservation strategies. It has been argued that the transformation
of the grasslands left the butterfly stranded with its host
and nectar plants on serpentine soils, and as those areas have
been developed or fragmented in the late 20th century, the vulnerable
butterfly has been driven toward extinction. This analysis suggests
that efforts to protect serpentine soils and plants from disturbance
likely contributed to the butterfly's demise, and that conservation
efforts now underway should consider the possibilities for recovering
species across a broader, more heterogeneous and dynamic landscape.
are currently investigating a comparative spatial environmental
history of 64 Bay checkerspot populations around the Bay Area
to test these hypotheses.
work is part of an interdisciplinary research project studying
the feasibility of reintroducing the Bay checkerspot to Jasper
Ridge Biological Preserve on the Stanford campus. That research
is supported by the Woods
Institute for the Environment.
work is also part of a larger project and a set of collaborations
exploring the creation of an Interactive Digital Environmental
History of California.
Christensen , PhD Candidate, History Department, Associate
Director, Spatial History Project, Bill Lane Center for the
Study of the North American West