Date of this Version
McCullough, K., G. Albanese, D. A. Haukos, A. M. Ricketts, and S. Stratton. 2019. Management regime and habitat response influence abundance of regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) in tallgrass prairie. Ecosphere 10(8):e02845. 10.1002/ecs2.2845
The >2,570,000-ha Flint Hills ecoregion of Kansas, USA, harbors the largest remaining contiguous tract of tallgrass prairie in North America, a unique system, as the remainder of North America’s tallgrass prairie has succumbed to development and conversion. Consequently, the loss and degradation of tallgrass prairie has reduced populations of many North American prairie-obligate species including the regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) butterfly. Population abundance and occupied range of regal fritillary have declined >99%, restricting many populations to isolated, remnant patches of tallgrass prairie. Such extensive decline has resulted in consideration of the regal fritillary for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Although it is widely accepted that management practices such as fire, grazing, and haying are necessary to maintain prairie ecosystems, reported responses by regal fritillary to these management regimes have been ambiguous.We tested effects of prescribed fire across short, moderate, and long fire-return intervals as well as grazing and haying management treatments on regal fritillary density. We also tested the relative influence of habitat characteristics created by these management regimes by measuring density of an obligate host plant (Viola spp.) and canopy cover of woody vegetation, grasses, forbs/ferns, bare ground, and litter. We found density was at least 1.6 times greater in sites burned with a moderate fire-return interval vs. sites burned with short and long fire-return intervals. Overall management regardless of fire-return interval did not have an effect on density. Percent cover of grass had the strongest positive association, while percent cover of woody vegetation had the greatest negative effect on density. Our results indicate that patch-burning is a viable and perhaps even ideal management strategy for regal fritillary in tallgrass prairie landscapes. Additionally, these results elucidate the importance of fire, particularly when applied at moderate-return intervals to regal fritillary, and corroborate a growing suite of studies that suggest fire is perhaps not as detrimental to populations of regal fritillary as previously believed.