Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1063–1073 | Cite as

Fire increases ant-tending and survival of the Fender’s blue butterfly larvae

  • Norah WarcholaEmail author
  • Carole Bastianelli
  • Cheryl B. Schultz
  • Elizabeth E. Crone


Studies of fire as a management tool often focus on how fire alters microclimate and affects plant quality. While these processes are important, they may act on a target species indirectly through species interactions. Fender’s blue [Plebejus (=Icaricia) icarioides fenderi] is an endangered butterfly found in fire dependent upland prairies in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, USA. In this study, we measured oviposition preference and overwinter larval survival and how they responded to an experimental burn. To explore the mechanism underlying differences in these vital rates, we studied gross plant chemistry of Fender’s blue larval host plants Kinkaid’s lupine (Lupinus oreganus = L. sulphureus spp. kincaidii) and spur lupine (L. arbustus) and monitored how temperature and fire history affect the mutualism between Fender’s blue larvae and a variety of tending ants. We used open top chambers to expand the range of observable temperatures, overlaid with the experimental burn to determine how both factors affected ant recruitment and duration of tending bouts. Oviposition rates and overwinter larval survival were higher in previously burned areas. We found no corresponding change in plant chemistry. Ant tending was affected by both temperature and fire history, with larvae able to recruit ants more quickly in warmer temperatures and fire history influencing the length of tending bouts. Differences in ant tending may explain enhanced overwinter survival. This case study highlights the importance of indirect (through species interactions) as well as direct effects in determining the impacts of fire on population dynamics of an at-risk butterfly species.


Lycaenid Species interactions Prairie restoration Controlled burns Mutualism 



The authors would like to acknowledge funding from the Department of Defense’s SERDP program, as well as logistical support from the USFWS Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge complex including Jock Beall, Jeremy DePiero, Jarod Jebousek, Molly Monroe, and Sharon Selvagio. Thanks to staff at Harvard Forest, especially Manisha Patel for help with chemical analyses. We would like to thank the staff at Antweb for ant identifications. In addition, we thank the following for assistance in the field, Keala Cumming, Joey Smokey, Chris Hatten as well as many volunteers and students from WSU Vancouver.


This research was primarily funded by the DoD’s SERDP program, Project RC-2119 with supplemental funding from Tufts University, Harvard Forest and Washington State University.

Compliance with ethical standards

The authors declare that they have complied with ethical standards.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10841_2015_9822_MOESM1_ESM.doc (34 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 33 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norah Warchola
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Carole Bastianelli
    • 3
  • Cheryl B. Schultz
    • 4
  • Elizabeth E. Crone
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Harvard ForestHarvard UniversityPetershamUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  3. 3.Biosciences DepartmentEcole Normale Supérieure de LyonLyonFrance
  4. 4.Biological SciencesWashington State UniversityVancouverUSA

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