Cranberry blues (Agriades optilete
) are butterflies of conservation interest worldwide. Less than 20 populations are known in Alberta, Canada, mostly inhabiting boreal forests that are increasingly fragmented by oil sands developments and subject to wildfires. We modeled the abundance of cranberry blues in the boreal forests of Alberta’s Wood Buffalo Region as a function of forest characteristics, presence of disturbances associated with in situ oil sands exploration, and wildfire disturbance, while accounting for butterfly detectability as a function of sampling conditions. We counted 188 cranberry blues during 1280 samples, discovering 14 unknown populations using a species distribution model based on forest wetness and canopy height. Probability of detection peaked around 5th July, and at higher temperatures and in the absence of wind, with cranberry blues preferring wetter treed peatland forests with low canopy heights. Seismic lines were positively related to the abundance of cranberry blues (400% increase), while exploratory well pads and wildfires were negatively related (60% and 90% loss, respectively). Overall, cranberry blue populations are small and locally sensitive to both natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Despite a narrow habitat specificity, cranberry blues seem more widely distributed than previously thought in northern Alberta (57% of the study area deemed suitable).
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