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Can butterflies evade fire? Pupa location and heat tolerance in fire prone habitats of Florida

Matthew D. Thom, Jaret C. Daniels, Leda N. Kobziar, Jonathan R. Colburn
Plos One 2015 v.10 no.5 pp. -
Baptisia tinctoria, Lupinus perennis, butterflies, coastal plains, field experimentation, habitat destruction, habitats, heat, heat tolerance, host plants, insect ecology, land management, larvae, mortality, plant litter, prescribed burning, pupae, pupation, soil depth, spring, temperature, Florida
The imperiled frosted elfin butterfly, Callophrys irus Godart, is restricted to frequently disturbed habitats where its larval host plants, Lupinus perennis L. and Baptisia tinctoria (L.) R. Br. occur. C. irus pupae are noted to reside in both leaf litter and soil, which may allow them to escape direct mortality by fire, a prominent disturbance in many areas they inhabit. The capacity of C. irus to cope with fire is a critical consideration for land management and conservation strategies in the few remaining locations where this species is found. C. irus pupa locations were sampled from a well-known population in the Southern Coastal Plain of North Florida, USA, characterized by an active history of prescribed fire. Survival of a surrogate butterfly pupae (Eumaeus atala Poey) in relation to temperature and duration of heat pulse was tested using controlled water bath experiments and a series of prescribed fire field experiments. Twelve C. irus pupae were excavated from 2010 to 2012: eight were located at the soil surface, with the remaining four found in the soil between 0.5-3.0cm depths. Survival of E. atala pupae was correlated to peak temperature and heat exposure in both laboratory and field trials. In addition, E. atala survival following field trials was correlated to depth of burial; complete mortality was observed for pupae at the soil surface. Fifty percent of experimental surrogate E. atala survived the heat generated by prescribed fire when at depths greater than or equal to 1.75cm, suggesting that pupation in the soil at depth can protect from fatal temperatures caused by fire. If applied to depths observed for C. irus, approximately 25% of pupae would survive in a typical spring season burn. A reduction of 75% of pupae of a given C. irus population from a burn event is a significant loss, and so decreasing the impact of prescribed fire on a population is critical.