Student Profile: Maria Fernanda Checa

Academic Advisor: Dr. Keith Willmott

Maria F. Checa is a research assistant with the "Butterflies of Ecuador" project, headed by Keith Willmott, and she is also a Teaching assistant in the Department of Entomology. Her general interests are focused in determining population trends in abundance and diversity of butterfly communities in highly threatened and diverse habitats, such as wet and dry forests of western Ecuador and Amazonia.

According to Checa, the data derived from her studies and "Butterflies of Ecuador" could potentially fill some important gaps in our knowledge of tropical Andean butterflies – the most diverse fauna worldwide – helping to preserve them. Such data will be used to determine vulnerability of butterfly species to habitat disturbance and climate variability, the IUCN conservation categories, predict impacts of global climate change on butterfly species, and address other important issues.

Maria Fernanda Checa Maria F. Checa surveying butterflies in Canande River Reserve, Western Ecuador.

Currently, Checa is pursuing a PhD program at the Department of Entomology and her PhD thesis is focused in analyzing the temporal patterns of composition and diversity of butterfly assemblages in a climatic gradient of Western Ecuador (very wet forests in the north and dry forest in the south), and which biotic and abiotic factors shape these assemblages." Very few ecological studies of insects have been done in tropical dry forests, a habitat characterized by high levels of endemism and facing tremendous risks of extinction. "The goal of this study," says Checa, "is to provide a better understanding of how seasonal climatic and habitat changes affect the structure and composition of butterfly communities, and how this contribute to the vulnerability of butterflies to extinction”

In addition to her primary research and PhD program, Checa is also pursuing a Master’s program in Sustainable Development at the University of Florida. According to her, this additional program would greatly complete her academic preparation to better face the multidisciplinary challenges of biodiversity conservation in her home country, Ecuador.