Alta Live: The Butterfly Effect

Can an extinct species, the iridescent butterfly known as the Xerces blue, fly once again?

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Can an extinct species, the iridescent butterfly known as the Xerces blue, fly once again? A group of conservationists and scientists are trying to make that butterfly dream come true. California Academy of Sciences senior research fellow Durrell Kapan joins Alta Journal contributor John Markoff for a look at how scientists are studying preserved specimens of the Xerces; the effort to introduce a butterfly closely related to this beautiful creature into San Francisco’s Presidio dunes; and the challenges of attempting to bring an extinct species back to life.

About the guests:

To understand and help sustain our biodiverse planet, Durrell Kapan’s lab at the California Academy of Sciences engages in transdisciplinary science to seek solutions to challenges from conservation to emerging infectious disease to forest resilience in a changing climate. Kapan works in close collaboration with several groups at the academy, including the MicroLife lab, the Entomology Department, the Center for Comparative Genomics, and the Ornithology and Mammalogy Department. His experience ranges from butterfly evolutionary ecology to the metapopulation biology of humans, mosquitoes, and the emerging infectious pathogens mosquitoes transmit—the latter in collaboration with the head of the MicroLife lab, Dr. Shannon Bennett. Kapan also conducts basic research in insect genomics, studying, among others, Heliconius butterflies and Hawaiian insects such as invasive Aedes mosquitoes.

John Markoff began writing about technology and science for the New York Times in March 1988 as the paper’s national computer writer. He retired from the paper in 2017 to write a biography of Stewart Brand. In 2013, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting as part of a New York Times project on labor and automation. He has written six books, including What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, published by Viking Press, and Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots, published by Ecco.•

Check out these links to some of the articles, videos, and organizations Kapan and Markoff touched on:

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