One of the many fun things about Japan has been learning about the research that my labmates are doing. Last weekend, my labmate Suzuki-san invited me to come see the study species he used for his masters degree. There was a regional ecology conference in a town outside Kyoto called Nara, and Suzuki-san and I went to get dinner with some of the professors who were in town for the meeting. Since I don’t speak Japanese and couldn’t understand any of the talks, we decided do a little sight-seeing around Nara instead of going to the conference. We also checked on Suzuki-san’s old field site on the way, to see how his butterfly is doing. Luckily his field site is in a town just a few train stops outside of Nara, so it was easy to drop by for a quick visit. One great thing I’ll really miss about Japan is being able to use public transportation for research!
Suzuki-san did his masters on the endangered butterfly Ypthima multistriata, which is only found in a small area of Kansai, Japan (Kansai is the area surrounding Kyoto, and includes the cities of Osaka, Nara, and Kobe). Not much is known about the butterfly, nobody is even sure what it’s caterpillars eat (it lays its eggs on dead leaves and the caterpillars then go in search of the host plant themselves). Another baffling thing about Ypthima multistriata is the fact that it’s reproductive schedule seems to vary a lot even in populations living close together. Some populations breed twice during the summer, while others breed only once. Suzuki-san and his colleagues studied nine populations of the butterfly, thinking that the closely related populations would have the same reproductive pattern. They found instead that the reproductive schedule wasn’t related to the genetic background of the population, but that each population had adapted independently to it’s location. They now think that competition with other butterflies and different host plant quality are what determine the reproductive schedule of the butterfly. This is a very interesting finding because it means that two populations living close together can evolve very different traits. However, there is still a lot more to be learned about this rare species!
After checking up on the butterfly, we went on to Nara which was once the capital of Japan, and has a number of really beautiful historical sites, including a giant Buddha. Legend has it that the god Takemikazuchi, rode in on a white deer to protect the city, so deer are considered sacred animals here. Nobody is allowed to hurt them (although you can feed them special deer cookies sold at the temples), and they roam freely through the streets. The following slide show is from our trip to the field site, and from the visit to Nara.