Many grassland ecosystems are disturbance-dependent, having evolved under the pressures of fire and grazing. Restoring these disturbances can be controversial, particularly when valued resources are thought to be disturbance-sensitive. We tested the effects of fire and grazing on butterfly species richness and population density in an economically productive grassland landscape of the central U. S. Three management treatments were applied: (1) patch-burngraze-rotational burning of three spatially distinct patches within a pasture, and moderately-stocked cattle grazing (N = 5); (2) graze-and-burn-burning entire pasture every 3 years, and moderately-stocked cattle grazing (N = 4); and (3) burn-only-burning entire pasture every 3 years, but no cattle grazing (N = 4). Butterfly abundance was sampled using line transect distance sampling in 2008 and 2009, with six 100-m transects per pasture. Butterfly species richness did not respond to management treatment, but was positively associated with pre-treatment proportion of native plant cover. Population density of two prairie specialists (Cercyonis pegala and Speyeria idalia) and one habitat generalist (Danaus plexippus) was highest in the burn-only treatment, whereas density of one habitat generalist (Cupido comyntas) was highest in the patch-burn graze treatment. Treatment application affected habitat structural characteristics including vegetation height and cover of bare ground. Historic land uses have reduced native plant cover and permitted exotic plant invasion; for some butterfly species, these legacies had a greater influence than management treatments on butterfly density. Conservation of native insect communities in altered grasslands might require native plant restoration in addition to restoration of disturbance processes.
- Habitat management
- Invasive species
- Prescribed burning
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation