LAX officials this week announced that a population of endangered butterflies that live on airport land continue to increase.
A recent 2010 study of native El Segundo Blue Butterflies concluded that its population is estimated to be between 111,562 and 116,474, an approximately 30 percent boost over 2009. "The present count has increased remarkably from the fewer than 500 El Segundo Blue butterflies that existed in 1976 when it became the first insect to be listed as a Federal Endangered Species," said Robert Freeman, the environmental services manager for Los Angeles World Airports, the L.A. city agency that owns and operates LAX.
But at least one scientist close to the project questioned the methodology to estimate population numbers. Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the expert said the airport's estimate was actually probably around 27,000, which is still a good number. Additionally, a 30% increase would not be unusual, the scientist explained, noting that butterfly populations can be affected by weather and habitat management leading to significantly varied year-to-year numbers.
El Segundo Blue Butterflies, which live on the airport's 200-acre Dunes Restoration Project, are narrow endemics--endemic as in the subspecies of blue butterflies found in the South Bay; narrow as in the localized El Segundo population (as opposed to the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly population found 15 miles south, for example). A video about LAX's recent population count can be seen online here.