Jessica Higgins, 25, and Sarah Seiter, 28, are grad students in evolutionary biology at UNC-Chapel Hill who write the Butterflies and Science blog (http://butterfliesandscience.wordpress.com). Follow them on Twitter @JessicakHiggins and @sarahseiter. Questions and answers have been edited.
Q: Why butterflies?
Higgins: They have short generation times, they occur everywhere across the planet, and they’re pretty – people care about them. They are really affected by temperature, and they work in sync with plants, so if the timing of the plant is off, their numbers are going to change.
Seiter: For me, it’s my specific butterfly. It’s an invasive species, and it’s able to live in different climates. Working with this particular butterfly is a chance to find out both whether invasive species are going to adapt to new environments, and how native species could potentially expand to live in a range of environments.
Q: Your field research has taken you to interesting places. Do you have favorites?
Seiter: I did a project where I was sampling all over North America, so I got to sample in Nova Scotia. I was able to do the same experiments in Japan, looking at different populations of butterflies. My work was based around Kyoto, which is climatologically very similar to North Carolina. It was really fun to do all the same experiments and have all the same field sites in a completely different region.
Higgins: I have been blessed and lucky to work not only in North Carolina but in Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains. The best part about working in the field out there is that it’s absolutely gorgeous. You’re surrounded in a meadow with all these beautiful flowers around you, and you look around, and everywhere you see mountains at 12,000 to 14,000 feet.
Q: How has your blogging impacted your understanding of what it means to be a scientist?
Higgins: Writing on the blog has helped me communicate my science in terms everyone can understand. That’s been extremely valuable.