The quality of habitat for a given species is fundamental to its persistence in that habitat space. Herbivorous insects often require a specific combination of host plants, floral resources, and physical features such as shelter. Identifying these different habitat features is a focus of ecology and conservation, particularly for managing rare or imperiled taxa. We investigated the patterns of microhabitat and host plant use of the rare frosted elfin butterfly, Callophrys irus, a larval host-plant specialist found in frequently disturbed sand plains, barrens, and sandhill pine-oak forests of the eastern United States. Previous studies have been conducted on populations in the Northeastern and Midwestern US, but the southern part of its range remains unstudied. Our efforts focused on a persistent C. irus colony in northeastern Florida, resulting in a geographically referenced census of larval host-plant Lupinus perennis, along with a multiple year survey of microhabitat features relevant to both C. irus adults and immatures. Results of the larval host-plant census revealed that the highest densities of host plants were located distant to the highest densities of C. irus. Hot-spot analysis confirmed the significance of this pattern, suggesting different habitat requirements for larval host-plant L. perennis and C. irus individuals in order to achieve maximum potential densities. Our survey of C. irus immatures showed a similar pattern of microhabitat affinity that was previously recorded in the Northeast and Midwestern US, including large larval host-plants, low amounts of ground cover vegetation, and the presence of some shade. Unique to our study we found that the presence of other herbivores of L. perennis such as larvae of the crambid moth Uresiphita reversalis had a negative effect on encountering C. irus immatures. Our results suggest that management that aims to conserve these species needs to include habitat factors that favor the overlap of these species and to consider where their densities are the highest.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We would like to personally thank J. Colburn for help with design, field work, and analysis. Additional thanks goes to M. Trager for logistical and conceptual guidance. We also thank L. Thom, M. Standridge, L. Barszczak, and M. Streifel for help in the field, and R. Fletcher, M Branham, L. Kobziar, and H. MacAuslane for reviewing previous drafts of this work. We thank the two anonymous reviewers that provided comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. We finally thank St. Johns River Water Management District staff J. Hart and B. Camposano for access and logistical support. This work was conducted as part of M. Thom's dissertation funded through a University of Florida Alumni Assistantship.
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