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Tuesday, January 30 • 10:20am - 10:40am
UPLAND GAME BIRDS & POLLINATORS: Disentangling Effects of Fire, Habitat, and Climate on an Endangered Prairie-Specialist Butterfly

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AUTHORS. Nathan Holoubek, Rich Henderson, Jed Meunier - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

ABSTRACT. Tallgrass prairie, arguably the most fire-dependent system in North America, is a Biome that is exceedingly rare. Absent frequent disturbance, remnant prairie rapidly converts to woody plants. This creates unique challenges for conservation of prairie-specialist insects dependent on increasingly small and isolated habitats prone to direct and indirect threats from climate variability, habitat degradation, and management activities; or lack thereof. Regal fritillary butterflies (Speyeria idalia) are one example, with sharp population declines in recent decades and considerable disagreement on management practices, particularly the use of prescribed burning to maintain habitat. We evaluated regal fritillary populations within seven sites spanning a 20-year period (1997–2016) in relation to detailed fire, habitat, and climate records to better understand these interacting effects in relation to interannual and long-term population changes. Fire had short-term negative effects on regal fritillary abundance; however, habitat quality was one of the most important factors explaining populations and was positively associated with prescribed fire. Burning every 3 – 5 years maximized regal abundance; though even annual burning was more beneficial to regal fritillary populations than no burning at all. Our data suggests unburned refugia are important in maintaining populations, but creating and maintaining high quality habitat with abundant and varied nectar sources including violets (Viola spp) may be the most impactful management and conservation tool. Regals were consistently more than twice as abundant on high quality habitats and this relationship held across, and often dwarfed the effects of, various prescribed fire regimes or climate variability.

Tuesday January 30, 2018 10:20am - 10:40am CST