Untangling the effects of fire, grazing, and land-use legacies on grassland butterfly communities
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Ray Moranz; Diane M. Debinski; Devan A. McGranahan; David M. Engle; James R. Miller
Publication Year: 2012

Cataloging Information

  • butterflies
  • butterfly
  • fire
  • grassland
  • grazing
  • Great Plains
  • habitat management
  • invasive species
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • patch burn grazing
  • prairie
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 2, 2016
FRAMES Record Number: 18015


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-burn graze-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.

Online Link(s):
Moranz, Raymond A.; Debinski, Diane M.; McGranahan, Devan A.; Engle, David M.; Miller, James R. 2012. Untangling the effects of fire, grazing, and land-use legacies on grassland butterfly communities. Biodiversity and Conservation 21(11):2719-2746.