Katy Thompson (PhD, 2013)

Supervisor: Francis Gilbert

Katy finished her PhD with us in 2013, and set off to pursue a career in conservation. This is how she described her project...

Research Interests

My PhD is on the Sinai Baton Blue butterfly (Pseudophilotes sinaicus) and its exclusive larval host plant, the Sinai Thyme (Thymus decussatus). This Critically Endangered insect is probably the World’s smallest butterfly, and has a narrowly endemic distribution in the St Katherine Protectorate, South Sinai, its entire world distribution occupying a mere 7 kmē. The butterfly is considered as a flagship species for the park, and is a symbolic species in conservation in not just Sinai but also throughout Egypt. The aim of my work is to understand more about the threats to enable more accurate conservation measures to be designed and implemented for these species.

The current threat to the species is predominately due to anthropogenic climate change and with the butterfly already at the limit of its range it is unable to respond to rising temperatures by migration. There is the increasing occurence of drought in this already arid environment which will reduce the available resources for the butterfly and larvae. I am monitoring the levels of synchrony between the butterfly and the thyme as rising temperatures may cause asynchrony between the flowering of the host plant and the timings of the main flight season.

Grazing has previously been thought of as the main threat to the thyme and as a consequence local Bedouin have been banned from grazing their stock near thyme patches. The prevention of grazing could have a negative impact on the condition of the thyme as grazing may be required to prevent senescence and could be needed to maintain plant vigour.  I am investigating this via clipping and fertiliser experiments to simulate the effect of grazing and dung on the plants.