The Role of Ants in Reaching Federal Recovery Goals for the Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) in the Pine Barrens of Concord, New Hampshire

Elizabeth G. Pascale
Department of Environmental Studies
The Karner blue butterfly is a federally listed endangered species that has experienced dramatic declines over its historic range. Within their surviving populations, Karner blue butterflies are known to engage in a symbiotic relationship with ants, in which their larvae secrete sugar-rich honeydew in exchange for protection by their ant partners. As with other Lycaenid butterfly species, this relationship is a facultative, multi-species mutualism. Therefore, while ants are typically not essential to the survival of a well-established lycaenid species, they could be critically important to the survival of a fragile population.

My research investigated the role that ants play in the survival of the Karner blue butterfly population found in the pine barrens of Concord, NH, which is managed by NH Fish & Game. During the summer of 2013, I worked with NH Fish & Game to assess the effects that the status of wild blue lupine - the sole host plant for Karner blue butterflies - as well as the effects that prescribed burning history and timing of sampling had on ant species composition. I surveyed ant species across the Concord Pine Barrens and compiled Karner blue butterfly population monitoring data.

I observed a strong positive relationship between ant abundance and the number of wild Karner blue butterflies, which is consistent with previous observations that Karner blue butterflies are generally attractive to the ant species with which they are most likely to interact in a given habitat. During the Karner blue butterfly second brood, I observed that ants showed a preference for sites with restored lupine, regardless of burn status. Therefore, due to the influence of lupine on ants and second brood Karner blue butterflies, the restoration of lupine may be a key to encouraging the interaction between Karner blue butterflies and ants.