Translocate to establish populations outside of known range

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Three studies evaluated the effects of translocating butterflies and moths to establish populations outside of their known range. Two studies were in the USA and one was in the UK.



  • Abundance (3 studies): Two of three studies in the USA and the UK reported that populations of Gillette’s checkerspot, small skipper and marbled white translocated outside of their native range as eggs or adults (in one case including captive-bred individuals) persisted and increased in abundance over eight and 28 years. The third study reported that a population of Gillette’s checkerspot adults, eggs and caterpillars translocated outside their native range died out within one year.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A study in 1979–1980 in an alpine meadow in Colorado, USA (Holdren & Ehrlich 1981, same experimental set up as Boggs et al. 2006) reported that a population of Gillette's checkerspot Euphydryas gillettii translocated outside the species’ native range died out within a year. Immediately after the release of 8,000 eggs and caterpillars, 85–90% of egg masses hatched and began feeding, and at least a third grew to a good size. Ten months later, 14 caterpillars were found feeding on plants where individuals were released, and 85% of bearberry honeysuckle Lonicera involucrata bushes had extensive feeding damage. However, only one adult female and a single egg cluster were found in July, and the egg cluster later disappeared. A later study confirmed that the population did not survive (Boggs et al. 2006). In July 1979, eggs and mated adult females were collected in Wyoming. On 10 July 1979, seventeen females were released in an alpine meadow. A week later, ~8,000 eggs and newly-hatched caterpillars were released on to bearberry honeysuckle at the same site. Egg clusters were taped to the leaves, and caterpillars were released in paper cups. Large plants which were not at risk of flooding were specifically chosen. In May 1980, the site was surveyed for surviving caterpillars, and in June and July it was monitored for adults and egg clusters. A second, successful translocation reported by this study is summarized in 2 - Boggs et al. 2006.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A study in 1977–2005 in an alpine meadow in Colorado, USA (Boggs et al. 2006, same experimental set up as Holdren & Ehrlich 1981) reported that a translocated and captive-bred population of Gillette's checkerspot Euphydryas gillettii released outside the species’ native range survived for 28 years, but only increased in size and colonized new sites after 22–25 years. For 21 years after the release of 83 egg clusters, the population size fluctuated between 24 and 143 adults, and remained confined to the release site. However, four years later, the population was estimated at >3,000 adults, and covered 70.4 ha. After a further three years, the population had declined to 150 adults at the release site, but two other habitat patches (0.3 and 0.6 ha) remained occupied (13–153 adults/ha). In July 1977, eggs and adult females were collected in Wyoming, and kept in a laboratory where more eggs were laid. In July–August 1977, eighty-three wild- and captive-laid egg and caterpillar clusters (~10,000 individuals from ~40 females) were released on to bearberry honeysuckle Lonicera involucrata in a 2.25-ha meadow. Details of the translocation taken from Holdren & Ehrlich (1981). In June–July 1978–1989 and 2002–2005, adult butterflies at the release site were caught and uniquely marked every 1–7 days. Recapture rates of marked butterflies were used to estimate the population size in years with sufficient data (1981–1986, 2002–2005). In 1978–1989, 2002 and 2004–2005, egg clusters and/or caterpillar webs were counted throughout the season at the release site, and in 2003–2005 at two newly colonized sites. The relationship between number of egg clusters and adult population was used to estimate the population size in the remaining years. From 1978–1987, areas surrounding the release site were searched for egg clusters or caterpillar webs, and from 2002–2005 a larger area was searched for adults.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A study in 1999–2008 in two limestone grasslands in Durham and Northumbria, UK (Willis et al. 2009) reported that translocated populations of small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris and marbled white Melanargia galathea survived and spread for eight years after release into climatically suitable areas north of their current range. Six years after release, the distribution of small skipper was 3.64 ha, compared to 0.17 ha in the first year, and the distribution of marbled white was 17.8 ha, compared to 7.2 ha in the first year. Six years after release, the abundance of marbled white was 14 butterflies/km, compared to 6 butterflies/km one year after release. However, most individuals of both species remained within 1 km of their release site. Eight years after release, both populations were still present. In July–August 1999, about 400 adult small skipper were collected from sites in North Yorkshire, and released in a quarry in Northumberland the following day, ~35 km north of the natural range. In July 2000, a further 200 small skipper were translocated to the same site, and ~500 adult marbled white were caught in North Yorkshire and released in a quarry in Durham, ~65 km north of their natural range. Roughly equal numbers of males and females were released. From 2001–2006, extensive searches of each release site and all suitable habitat within 3–4 km were conducted regularly to record adults during their flight period. In 2007–2008, more limited surveys were conducted. Marbled white were also recorded along a 1,550-m transect through their release site every 3–4 days during the flight period (years not given).

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Bladon A.J., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2022) Butterfly and Moth Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for butterflies and moths. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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Butterfly and Moth Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Butterfly and Moth Conservation
Butterfly and Moth Conservation

Butterfly and Moth Conservation - Published 2022

Butterfly and Moth Synopsis

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