Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 11, pp 2719–2746 | Cite as

Untangling the effects of fire, grazing, and land-use legacies on grassland butterfly communities

  • Raymond A. Moranz
  • Diane M. Debinski
  • Devan A. McGranahan
  • David M. Engle
  • James R. Miller
Original Paper


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.


Butterflies Grazing Habitat management Invasive species Prairie Prescribed burning 



Akaike information criterion, corrected for finite sample sizes


Nonmetric multidimensional scaling



Funding for this project was through the Iowa State Wildlife Grants program grant T-1-R-15 in cooperation with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. Technicians Meghan Kirkwood, Matthew Nielsen, Michael Rausch, Shannon Rusk, and Laura Winkler assisted in collection of data. We thank Karl Pazdernik and Dennis Lock for their assistance with statistical analyses. Special thanks go to research associate Ryan Harr for his efforts in managing almost every aspect of our research project. Finally, we pay our respects to the late Sheri Svehla for initiating our work in the field.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raymond A. Moranz
    • 1
  • Diane M. Debinski
    • 1
  • Devan A. McGranahan
    • 2
  • David M. Engle
    • 3
  • James R. Miller
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal BiologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Environmental StudiesSewanee: The University of the SouthSewaneeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  4. 4.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA

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