Chasing butterflies leads biologist to illuminate global warming trend

This story was published on the Research page of the University of Texas at Austin website.

Camille Parmesan grew up in Houston, where oil was not only the city’s business, it was her family’s business.

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Camille Parmesan

Her mother, Dorothy Johnson Parmesan was a geologist for Magnolia Oil Co., and Parmesan’s sister, Anne Gafford, now works as an oil company geologist.

Parmesan also took the path of science, but as a biologist. As an assistant professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin, her field is butterflies.

The pursuit of butterflies led her to study climate change. She studied how it affected the Edith’s checkerspot, a butterfly in which she has specialized, which led to the studies of how other species are affected by climate change around the world.

Through several groundbreaking studies, Parmesan has become an authority on the impact climate change is having on the planet’s plants and animals.

She had been studying the Edith’s checkerspot when, in 1992, she responded to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program. Her project was to study how her butterfly, Edith’s checkerspot, was being affected by climate change.

“So I devised a project to look for response to global climate change by looking at the whole species range all the way from Mexico to Canada and asking the really simple question, ‘Are we seeing it shifting its range?’ And NASA said, ‘Sure, go for it.’ And gave me three years funding to do this.”

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