Intensity of Agricultural Management Impacts Butterfly Populations

Annabelle McCarthy, Lindsey Kemmerling, Nick Haddad
Integrative Biology

Presented at the All Scientist Meeting and Investigators Field Tour (2021-09-23 to 2021-09-23 )

Addressing pollinator decline is quickly rising in importance, as insects are declining globally due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, pesticide use, and climate change. Reluctance to protect pollinator populations threatens crop quality and yield, in addition to the immense loss of biodiversity. Farmers have the opportunity to preserve biodiversity of pollinators through the implementation of informed agricultural management. Scientists are researching regenerative agricultural practices β€” such as reduced tillage, restoring native habitat in farms, and reduced pesticide use β€”to understand how these practices can benefit insects in and around agricultural land, and to best inform stakeholders and policy makers. One method of restoring habitat in row crop agriculture is to sow strips of native perennial vegetation within row crops called prairie strips. In order to determine how agricultural management impacts butterfly abundance and species richness, we surveyed butterflies from May-October 2020 in the KBS Long-Term Ecological Research Site. Our research sites spanned a gradient of agricultural intensity β€” from conventional farming to restored prairie, including reduced tillage, reduced pesticide use, and prairie strips. We found that butterfly abundance and species richness were greatest in the prairie strips within plots, which adds to the mounting evidence of the benefits of prairie strips for biodiversity. In addition, there was significantly higher abundance of butterflies in reduced input and organic treatments than in no-till or conventional treatments. This indicates that altering agricultural management and adding prairie habitat to farms is of utmost importance for butterflies. In the future, we look forward to examining the effect of prairie strips on butterfly presence, as the three-year-old strips continue to mature.

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