Effects of Tall Fescue and Its Fungal Endophyte on the Development and Survival of Tawny-Edged Skippers (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae)

Environ Entomol. 2016 Feb;45(1):142-9. doi: 10.1093/ee/nvv151. Epub 2015 Sep 24.


Invasive, exotic grasses are increasing in tallgrass prairie and their dominance may be contributing to the decline of grassland butterflies through alterations in forage quality. Tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort.), an exotic grass covering millions of acres in the United States, can host a fungal endophyte, Epichloë coenophiala (Morgan-Jones & Gams). Alkaloids produced by the endophyte are known to be toxic to some foliar-feeding pest insects. Endophyte-infected tall fescue is commonly planted in hayfields, pastures, lawns, and is invading natural areas, but effects of the endophyte on nonpest insects such as butterflies are relatively unknown. Our objective was to investigate the role that tall fescue and its endophyte might play in the decline of grass skippers (Hesperiidae). We examined growth and survival parameters of tawny-edged skippers (Polites themistocles (Latreille)) that were reared on endophyte-infected tall fescue (E+), endophyte-free tall fescue (E-), and Kentucky bluegrass (KBG). KBG was included as a comparison because it is a cool season grass known to be palatable to P. themistocles larvae. Interestingly, results showed that the endophyte did not affect growth and survival of larvae compared to uninfected tall fescue, even though significant amounts of loline alkaloids (average 740 ppm) were measured in endophyte-infected plant material. Larvae feeding on KBG grew faster with greater survival rates than larvae on both tall fescue treatments. These results confirm that tall fescue invasion and dominance may be deteriorating the quality of grassland habitats for native pollinators; however, this effect does not appear to be linked to endophyte infection.

Keywords: Epichloë coenophiala; Poa pratensis; Polites themistocles; Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.); loline alkaloid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies / growth & development*
  • Endophytes / physiology*
  • Epichloe / physiology*
  • Festuca / growth & development
  • Festuca / microbiology*
  • Introduced Species
  • Iowa
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Neotyphodium / physiology
  • Poa / growth & development