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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Benefit of permanent non-fire refugia for Lepidoptera conservation in fire-managed sites
Year: 2007
Author(s): Swengel, A. B., Swengel, S. R.
Source Title: Journal of Insect Conservation
Source Type: Journal
pages: 263-279
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: From the early 1990s through 2005, we conducted butterfly transect surveys annually at the same sites in three regions of Wisconsin. We compared specialist butterfly population indices at three sites where a permanent non-fire refugium (a unit kept unburned through cycles of rotational fire elsewhere in the site) was established during this study to indices at comparison sites (which had consistent management throughout this study) in the same region. At Crex Meadows (12,180 ha), all significant changes in specialist numbers skewed toward relatively higher abundance in the refugium (14 ha, last burned in 1988) during the later period (19982005) versus 10 comparison subsites (fire-managed in both periods) than expected from observations in the earlier period (199197). The same pattern occurred in the refugium (4 ha) at Bauer-Brockway (125 ha), after the rest of that unit (9 ha) had its first management fire. Population trends were positive in these refugia, while the comparison sites usually had less favorable trends, or otherwise had similar trends. At Muralt Bluff (25 ha), regal fritillaries (Speyeria idalia) were more concentrated in the refugium (3 ha, last burned in 1991) during the earlier period but were more abundant in both periods in the refugium than the other units there (fire-managed in both periods). In the earlier period at Muralt Bluff, this species significantly declined, the opposite trend of comparison sites (which always had never-burned refugia), but significantly increased in the later period, similar to comparison sites. The refugium did not benefit Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe), which declined significantly in the earlier period and was not recorded in the later period. Formerly burned units began functioning as refugia only >68 years after last fire and continued to increase in benefit for years after that. In fire-managed and fire-prone sites, we recommend the creation of permanent non-fire refugia for Lepidoptera conservation, placed where the most specialists will benefit and managed unintensively (e.g. mowing) if needed.