Diurnal Lepidopteran Response to Prescribed Burning and Roller Chopping in Florida Flatwoods

In recent years, Florida's pine flatwoods, which provide habitat for numerous Lepidopteran species (butterflies and moths), have exhibited considerable declines in quantity and quality. These declines are primarily attributed to changes in historic fire regimes which have resulted in excessive shrub growth and loss of herbaceous vegetation. Prescribed burning and roller chopping are being promoted as a means to improve these areas of degraded pine flatwoods. However, impacts of these practices on pine flatwoods-associated Lepidopterans, many of which are important herbivores and pollinators, are largely unknown. The objectives of this study were to 1) compare diurnal Lepidopteran species richness and abundance on treated (management activities such as prescribed burning implemented) and untreated (no management activities implemented) pine flatwoods sites and 2) compare species richness and abundance of nectar-producing forbs and shrubs on treated and untreated sites. We assessed seasonal effects of prescribed burning, roller chopping, and combinations of the two treatments on Lepidopterans and plant community characteristics using a paired sample approach. These variables were compared between sampling locations randomly located within treated and untreated areas. For our single season study, Lepidopteran abundance was lower on dormant season burn sites. Flowering forb abundance and richness declined on growing season burn and roller chop/burn sites. Until further research is completed, application of prescribed burning and roller chopping practices in pine flatwoods where active Lepidopteran management is a priority should be done on smaller areas in a mosaic arrangement. This approach will promote a variety of pine flatwoods habitats in different successional stages that could be utilized by a range of Lepidopteran species. Keywords: abundance, butterflies, fire management, flowering plants, Lepidoptera, pollinators, prescribed burning

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