Urban parks are a refuge for butterflies but if kept semi-wild, they will harbour even more of the fluttering insects, a study has found.
In their survey of 10 parks in Kuala Lumpur, researchers from Universiti Malaya discovered that bigger and older parks, as well as those with pockets of wild areas, host more species of butterflies.
“These areas have more types of plants, and butterflies rely on plants for food,” explains entomologist and PhD student Sing Kong-Wah. He says areas which are unmanaged in parks resemble wild sites and have less human disturbance compared with landscaped areas, and so have higher butterfly diversity.
For the study, Sing and his colleagues surveyed butterflies in Taman Botani Perdana (Lake Garden), Taman Rimba Bukit Kiara, Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Taman Tasik Manjalara, Taman Metropolitan Batu, Taman Tasik Permaisuri, Taman Bukit Jalil, Taman Pudu Ulu, Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir and Taman Alam Damai.
They found a total of 60 species out of the 1,000 species found in Peninsular Malaysia. Taman Tasik Permaisuri in Cheras has the most number of species while Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir, the park closest to the city’s central business district, the least. Except for two rare ones, all the recorded species are common and widespread.
“The lack of rare species in KL parks, which is similar to findings from Singapore and Hong Kong, indicates that city parks are poor substitutes to natural habitats for maintaining populations of rare butterflies,” says Sing. “In order to promote butterfly diversity in tropical city parks, park managers should set aside areas of the parks as unmanaged, semi-natural area. Where management is necessary, the managers should use a diverse planting scheme of native flowers.”
Butterflies can indicate the health of green spaces as they react rapidly to environmental change due to their short lifespan. “If a park is not so healthy, there is usually fewer species of butterflies,” says Sing. Butterflies form an integral part of the green landscape as they are pollinators, and their larvae is food for other creatures such as birds.
Sing says 20% to 40% of the butterfly species of South-East Asia are threatened with extinction due to urbanisation and deforestation. He says since 1990, Kuala Lumpur has seen an 87% loss in green land, a 77% increase in the human population, and urban sprawl across the outlying Klang Valley.
He says understanding the biodiversity of city parks is critical, but has received little attention. “City parks not only serve as green lungs, providing fresh air and recreation grounds for the urban community. They are also important for local wildlife, providing refuge for animals which need green spaces to survive.”
He says one way to increase butterfly species richness is to link up urban parks through green corridors which can take the form of tree-lined streets or rooftop gardens on high-rises.