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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Invasive Grass Negatively Affects Growth and Survival of an Imperiled Butterfly

Cale S. Nordmeyer*, Erik Runquist, Seth Stapleton

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: With only ~1% of native prairie remaining in North America, populations of many prairie-obligate species, including the imperiled Dakota skipper butterfly, have drastically declined in recent decades. Unfortunately, population recovery is impeded by an insufficient understanding of Dakota skipper biology. Because larvae have never been naturally observed in the wild, even basic life history elements including preferred host plant(s) are not well understood, and potential hosts have been inferred from grasses inhabiting remnant sites rather than direct observations. To improve our understanding of Dakota skipper biology and habitat needs and inform recovery efforts, we conducted a no-choice performance experiment offering larvae 1 of 5 commonly occurring native grasses and 2 pervasive invasive grass species found across their historic range. We monitored larvae during key life history intervals and evaluated host plant quality by measuring larval and pupal mass, time to pupation, and survivorship. Larvae fed on all offered host grasses, but mass, phenology and survivorship varied among treatments. Larvae reared on prairie dropseed and porcupine grass had the highest survival, the shortest time to adulthood, and the greatest mass, whereas larvae provided smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass fared poorly for all observed metrics. All other grasses offered during the study were deemed ‘medium’ quality. Our results suggest that although larvae can feed on a variety of potential host plants, these hosts vary in quality. Invasive grasses across prairies in North America may pose an ecological trap to the conservation of Dakota skipper and other prairie-obligate Lepidoptera.