Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 577-590

First online:

Effects of managing semi-natural grassland buffers on butterflies

  • J. G. DollarAffiliated withThe Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
  • , S. K. RiffellAffiliated withDepartment of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University Email author 
  • , L. W. BurgerJr.Affiliated withDepartment of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University

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Butterflies are important components of biodiversity in grassland ecosystems and provide ecosystem services such as pollination. Although agricultural intensification has led to a scarcity of native grassland habitats within most agricultural landscapes of North America, fragmented remnants and semi-natural habitats may support diverse communities, including butterflies, as long as vital resources such as host plants are available. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program practice CP33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (USDA 2004) provides semi-natural grassland habitat in agricultural landscapes, but a knowledge gap exists about impacts of prescribed disturbance (e.g. burning or disking) on butterflies. We monitored butterfly habitat and butterfly communities on experimentally manipulated CP33 grassland buffers in Clay County, Mississippi from 2007 to 2009. Disturbance guild butterfly species richness did not differ among treatments. However, disturbance guild abundance was positively affected by disking in both the first and second growing seasons following disking, and the magnitude of this response varied between years. Effects of burning on disturbance guild abundance did not differ from the control treatment. There were no treatment differences for grassland guild butterfly abundance and species richness suggesting that periodic disturbance does not unduly impact grassland-associated butterflies in the southeastern US. Our results support current USDA practice standards that require periodic disturbance during the 10-year contract, but restrict the disturbance to 1/3 or 1/4 of grassland buffer area in a given year.


Butterflies Disking Grassland Prescribed burning