Environmental Associations with Post-Fire Butterfly Occupancy in the Sierra Nevada, California

David T. Pavlik, Erica Fleishman, Rick D. Scherer, Robert B Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fire affects environmental attributes associated with the distribution, abundance, and reproduction of butterflies, and studies have demonstrated that species richness and abundance of butterflies respond to fire. However, the effects of fire on resources used by adult butterflies, and on butterfly occupancy, are largely unknown. In 2014 and 2015, we surveyed butterflies and elements of their habitat within the boundary of the Rim Fire (Stanislaus National Forest, Tuolumne County, California), one of the largest fires known to occur in California during the past century. We examined the extent to which butterfly occupancy and abundance in the first two years following the Rim Fire were associated with environmental attributes that were affected by fire. We also tested whether vegetation and soil burn severity, two indices used by resource management agencies, explained variation in the environmental attributes that we included in models of butterfly occupancy and abundance. We found that the percentage of live ground cover and canopy cover were strongly associated with occupancy of the majority of the species we modeled. In some cases, environmental attributes associated with occupancy also were associated with the abundances of those species. Values of environmental attributes that explained substantial variation in butterfly occupancy and abundance were associated with vegetation and soil burn severity. Understanding how fire affects environmental attributes that are associated with butterfly occupancy and abundance may inform strategies for managing these species with prescribed fire or following wildfire, or when fire treatments are applied for other reasons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-506
Number of pages10
JournalNatural Areas Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (RC-2202), the Wally Dayton Wildlife Fellowship of the University of Minnesota, and the National Institute of the General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health [R01GM098290]. Thanks to Kevin Welsh and Lauren Gonce for field assistance and to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center and Sharon Strauss for freezer space.


  • Rim Fire
  • abundance
  • canopy
  • nectar
  • vegetation


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