The Relationship Between Ants and Lycaeides melissa samuelis (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) at Concord Pine Barrens, NH, USA

Environ Entomol. 2016 Jun 1;45(3):633-641. doi: 10.1093/ee/nvw036.


The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov) (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) is a federally listed, endangered species that has experienced dramatic decline over its historic range. In surviving populations, Karner blue butterflies have a facultative mutualism with ants that could be critically important to their survival where their populations are threatened by habitat loss or disturbance. In this study, we investigated the effects of ants, wild blue lupine population status (native or restored), and fire on adult Karner blue butterfly abundance at the Concord Pine Barrens, NH, USA. Ant frequency (the number of times we collected each ant species in our pitfall traps) was higher in restored than native lupine treatments regardless of burn status during both Karner blue butterfly broods, and the trend was statistically significant during the second brood. We observed a positive relationship between adult Karner blue butterfly abundance and ant frequency during the first brood, particularly on native lupine, regardless of burn treatment. During the second brood, adult Karner blue butterfly abundance and ant frequency were not significantly correlated in any treatments or their combinations. Our findings suggest that a combination of native and restored lupine is important for supporting both Karner blue butterflies and ants at the Concord Pine Barrens, and that burning does not affect the mutualism. Thus, scientists and managers at the site may wish to target their habitat management activities to best support both Karner blue butterflies and the particular ant species that provide the greatest benefit to their survival.

Keywords: Formicidae; Karner blue butterfly; Lycaenidae; mutualism; pine barrens.