A unique experiment in the French Pyrenees is tracking the responses of lizards and butterflies in a man-made facility to measure the effects climate change.
MOULIS, FRANCE (AUGUST 10, 2011) REUTERS - Scientists are enlisting the help of some of earth's most sensitive creatures to help determine the effects of climate change.
Researchers in the French Pyrenees are tracking cabbage white butterflies and common lizards to see how they migrate in an artificial setting set to mimic climate change effects.
The Metatron project, which is being put on by the French National Research Center (CNRS), involves 48 enclosed cages, each set to different environmental conditions.
The project, which is estimated to cost around 1.5 million Euros, is the closest scientists can get to examining the impact of climate change on the species, said Jean Clobert, the project's director.
"If we want to establish rules or guidelines with regard to protecting these species or ecosystems, we need to know what action needs to be taken," he said.
"It's really trying to understand how our complex system is just reacting to any perturbations. What we want to do is make some predictions about how this environment looks like if we perturb this environment that way, that way or another way," he added.
Scientists will track the movement of the lizards and butterflies within the different environments twice a day, for up to one year.
Butterfly Researcher Oliver Calvez, described what they will be looking for during these monitoring sessions.
"What we are trying to do is see which individual butterflies within this cage's population will disperse and explore another cage. It represents if you may a population in a natural environment and a new habitat which would be colonized by certain individual butterflies from the original population," said Calvez.
Each individual butterfly has a number tattooed on one of its wings and the lizards have paint markings on their head. Both the butterflies and lizards can migrate from one enclosure to another through long corridors and scientists can monitor how far they travel and where they choose to congregate and breed.
"We study new born lizards after they are released into the populations to see which habitat they prefer. Where they go and where they settle down in relation to environmental and climatic conditions," said common lizard researcher Julien Cote.
n order to analyze migration patterns, scientists at the centre can modify heat and water levels in each enclosure remotely using specialized computer software.
As weather patterns in each cage change, researchers can see what the butterflies and lizards do and where they choose to live.
Researchers say they hope to use Metatron's findings to protect the species and their ecosystems.