Introduction: The Karner Blue’s population “has declined by 99% or greater over its range in the past 100 years, and [it is] estimated that 90% of this decline has occurred in the past 10-15 years” (Department of Conservation and Research). Threats to Wild Blue Lupine, such as succession of woody species or invasive species encroaching on lupine sites, overgrazing by animals, and human development, are also threats to Karner Blues. Karner Blues are currently only found in eight states: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Fact Sheet.”). The goal of the Karner Blue Butterfly’s federal recovery plan is to regain 27 meta-populations: 19 metapopulations supporting at least 3,000 butterflies each and 8 larger ones supporting 60,000 each. This goal is predicted require at least 20 years of active conserving (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). Species conservation of any species is worthy of investigating. The Karner Blue Butterfly is endangered largely because of human development, so it is our responsibility to help bring them back. Since 1990, conservationists have created many methods to conserve the Karner Blue Butterfly. The approaches to conservation are either species based (flagship status, captive breeding, and rearing) or habitat based (maintaining, restoring, protecting). It is important to find the most beneficial method or combination of methods to conserve the Karner Blue Butterfly population. This investigation compares various ways conservationists try to preserve and rebuild populations of Karner Blues.
Surveys: One of the ways conservationists study sub-populations of Karner Blues is to conduct surveys on the characteristics of habitat. A standard survey is distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It not only selects for the amount of Karner Blues, but also keeps track of the encroachment of woody vegetation, nectar species, Lupine density, exotic species, and weather conditions (Rabe). The surveys are extensive as possible in order to produce accurate data. Surveys determine what threatens individual sites. Since all of the surveys utilize the same methodology, conservationists can compare sites to determine which one needs the most help. However, since Karner Bluesmove quite fast and are relatively small, it can be difficult to notice or positively identify them. The Melissa Blue (Lycaeides melissa) and the Eastern-Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas) Butterflies look very similar to the Karner Blue and frequent the same environment, although they are not dependent on Lupine. This can lead to false identification and uncertainty in the data. To minimize this, it is necessary for the surveyors to be trained in butterfly identification. The window of opportunity for survey times is limited. The best time to survey is from mid May to early June for the first brood and mid July to early August for the second brood. For larvae, surveying should be done 7-10 days before flight times. Karner Blues only live for a maximum of two weeks. Depending on what time of day that surveying is done, there could be variances in weather conditions over the course of a day or days of the survey work. Even if it is recommended to survey every two days, butterflies do not like cold or rainy temperatures, so those conditions are to be avoided. Comparing surveys from different years is difficult because of annual differences in abundance and small sample sizes, although changes in the Karner Blue’s behavior can provide insight into habitat quality (Pickens). Conducting Surveys helps determine what a population needs, but has many possible sources of error.
Captive Breeding and Rearing: Scientists perform captive breeding and rearing programs to increase the Karner Blue population. Captive breeding takes both male and female Karner Blues and allows them to mate in captivity. Captive rearing involves recently mated females and provides them a place to oviposit their eggs. Captive rearing is simpler for raising eggs, but captive breeding may produce more eggs as the males and females can find each other better. The Karner Blue has a complex life cycle. They first overwinter as eggs that will hatch in April. The larvae have four instars, phases between two periods of molting, during their time spent feeding on the tops of Lupine leaves. During the fourth instar, they begin searching for pupate locations and that makes them move away from the Lupine which provides better shelter than the open field. In captive programs, pots with Lupine host the larvae. When the larvae reaches the fourth instar in captivity, the likeliness of them getting into danger increases. They can often be found “outside pot edge, under the pot, up in the net, or on the substrate near the pot” (Department of Conservation and Research). This instinct makes it much easier to accidentally squish the larvae. Predators threaten the Karner Blue in all stages of its life cycle. The first brood of adults start their flight in mid May to early June. Then, the adults from this brood lay eggs that will emerge in July and August. The second brood oviposits eggs for overwintering (Grundel). The complexity of the life cycle makes it difficult to replicate. The Toledo Zoo still has problems with low fertility in their breeding programs for Karner Blues. “Karner Blues have persisted in Ohio since the initial release in 1998 but we have had setbacks.” Says Karner Blue Conservationist, Mitchell Magdich, “Some sites have winked out (at Oak Openings Metropark and Mielke Road Savanna) but the main site at Kitty Todd Preserve (operated by the Nature Conservancy) in Lucas County, Ohio continues to persist but at a low level” (Parkanzky). It is currently uncertain of the relation between captivity and fertility. However, it is still quite possible to successfully breed hundreds of Karner Blues for release (Department of Conservation and Research). A single female Karner Blue Butterfly was captive reared at the Toledo Zoo and produced a total of 57 eggs. By the 17th of July, 15 of those turned into adults (Department of Conservation and Research). Though the Toledo Zoo was generally successful in their captive rearing programs, New Hampshire failed in their first efforts when their native population went extinct. They tried captive rearing the few eggs they had left but none of them hatched (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan”). There is still risk in captive rearing or breeding. Agroup released in 2006 from the Toledo Zoo was nearly destroyed from a late frost in May (Magdich). So far, the second brood is much more efficient than the overwintering process. The Toronto Zoo has done trials using Eastern-Tailed Blues, as a model for Karner Blues, where they raised butterflies similar to the style in the second brood, but was unable to reproduce butterflies using the overwintering process (U.S. Fish & Wildlife. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). Improving the overwintering process may double the amount of butterflies reared in a year. In natural settings, spiders and centipedes are the primary threats to Karner Blues at all stages of their life. Captive rearing protects the Karner Blue from predators thus decreasing the mortality rate (Department of Conservation and Research). In captivity, a lack of cleanliness causes eggs to perish from infection and mold as larvae start to produce proportionally large amounts of frass (the excrement of insect larvae). Containers need to be cleaned out daily to reduce the threat of infection (Gifford). After butterflies emerge, they are either used for reintroduction or further breeding programs. Butterflies are easier to reintroduce than other endangered species since they do not need training after being in captivity because their behavior to survive is based on instinct. However, reintroduction programs for making new populations are not always successful, the site may not be well suited for the newly released Karner Blues to survive. An alternative is to reinforce existing weaker metapopulations with those raised in captivity. This “will reduce monitoring costs, simplify reserve design, and create more robust populations, which are more likely to persist into the future” (Guiney). Only after all patchy metapopulations are stable should more chances be taken to increase the amount of metapopulations.
Prescribed Burning: An alternative to restoring the butterflies themselves is preserving their habitat. The main reason that the oak savannas and pine barren habitats have been destroyed is human development and fire suppression. As human development encroaches on the habitat more and more precautions are put in place to suppress closeby wildfires because they may threaten a man-made structure. Wildfires are the regime of oak savannas and pine barrens. Wildfires keep the woody vegetation at bay and preserve the open canopies so the herbaceous vegetation can thrive. Herbaceous vegetation includes the Wild Blue Lupine and other nectar producing species that butterflies and bees require. With wildfires being suppressed, woody vegetation started to dominate the ecosystem (Czech). Conservationists use prescribed fires to replace the wildfires. There are tradeoffs between the short and long term effects wildfires have on Karner Blue Butterfly and Wild Blue Lupine populations. All stages of the Karner Blue’s life are fire sensitive (Rabe). A fire will kill the eggs, larvae, and adults so it should be used only when completely necessary. The negatives must be compared to the positives of prescribed burning. Conservationists need to take into consideration the site’s dynamics before prescribing a fire to it. There is a lack of information on how the butterflies will respond and how badly small and patchy subpopulations will be affected when burned (Pickens). Although there are short term consequences, prescribed fires are beneficial in the long-run. Studies by the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan showed that the “oviposition rate in the unmanaged treatments was extremely low; only 5 of 127 eggs were oviposited in the unmanaged treatments” (Pickens). They found that the Karner Blue will stop reproducing in “savanna left unburned for [greater than or equal to] 4 years” (Pickens). Nonetheless, Karner Blues are still vulnerable to fire. Precaution must be taken to provide adequate refugia from the danger (Gifford). Most organizations recommend rotating burn sites, so there is always an area available for the butterflies to take refuge in. Both Pickens and Kappler’s reports did experiments managing Karner Blue sites on an one third interval with burning, mowing and leaving the site unmanaged. Kappler found that prescribed burns increased the amount of seed predation and lupine growth in the long-term (Kappler). Pickens found that the Karner Blues were found on all management plans equally other than that the second brood females preferred the burned sites over the mowed (Pickens). The prescribed fire method has consequences in the short run, but benefits greatly overtime.
Mowing: Another method to preserve the habitat is to mow the vegetation. Similarly to prescribed fires, mowing is used to reduce the amount of encroaching woody vegetation. Most conservationists do not recommend mowing if burning is safely possible. Burning adds more nutrients to the soil than mowing and promotes stronger new growth. There are strict requirements for mowing Karner Blue sites just like there are for burning. Until Karner Blue activity has stopped, mowing is not allowed. The time set for mowing is after the first frost in October, but recent research suggests that mowing should occur in the spring, before the lupine flowers emerge (Gifford). The latter is preferred because it may “increase female fecundity and accelerate population growth as a result of first brood larvae feeding on re-sprouts of the mowed lupine.” Though mowing is currently not allowed during early spring, since the blade height restriction of 6-8 inches is too high to cut lupine (Gifford). Mowing during late spring and early summer has detrimental effects on Karner Blue populations. It reduces nectar availability for adults, leaf availability for larvae, and potentially kills the larvae itself (Rabe). Burning during this time will have the same effects. Managing the habitat during peak Karner Blue season is never recommended. Prescribed fires simulate the regenerative effects of natural wildfires, while mowing may not last as long and are restricted to only small brush. When burning would be hazardous, mowing can reduce the amount of woody species in Karner Blue habitats. On the other side, too much tree removal can also be dangerous to Karner Blue population. The ratio of woody and herbaceous vegetation must be just right to benefit the butterflies. Like most butterflies, Karner Blues prefer to move between the sun-shade gradient. Clearing too much vegetation causes the butterflies to disperse (Grundel). Adult butterflies have different habitat qualifications than larvae at the edge of the forest. Lupine grown in the shade will most likely not flower unlike the ones in the sun (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). However, survival is highest when larvae eat the leaves of the lupine in the closed canopies and lowest when they live in open canopies because they are less visible to predators (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). The removal of trees surrounding a lupine patch will uncover those very lupine that serve as host for larvae and actually reduce the population level. Even though the shaded Lupine do not give nectar to adult butterflies that are vital for the survival of larvae.
Wildflowers: Lupine and wildflower seed planting is less used but still can be effective for Karner Blue Habitat restoration. The availability of flowering plants can restrict butterfly population size and oviposition rate in an area, but is not always the limiting factor (Grundel). The University of Notre Dame, Department of Biological Sciences found that the Karner Blue in particular frequently selected for yellow or white colored flowers (Grundel). Wild Blue Lupine, of course, must be present in order for a habitat to house Karner Blues. However, a study done in Minnesota found that the regions of a forest with the densest population of Lupine did not support more Karner Blues than others. They suggested that along with Lupine availability, a microhabitat may be a factor in how the Karner Blue choses its habitat (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). It is still beneficial to plant Lupine but it is like that other factors are important to consider at a site such as “spatial trend, resource availability, matrix quality, and microclimate” when organizing a management plan (Grundel, Ralph, and Noel). When replanting an area, Antioch University recommends using a “combination of native and restored Lupine” to keep the natural population and enforcing it with a new population ("New Environmental Entomology Findings from Antioch University”). Hand collection of the Wild Lupine seeds has to be done at just the right time, in mid-July when the seeds are mature but before the seed pods start to burst open. The seeds themselves grow rather slowly and are fragile. The seedlings are highly susceptible to root rot (Department of Conservation and Research). There’s a trade off between the amount of physical work into Lupine planting and the amount of product in the end. It will take more time to plant the seeds than using other habitat conservation methods, however, it helps the habitat differently than mowing or burning and could quite possibly be used to start new Karner Blue habitats that are lacking Lupine. Lupine and wildflower seed planted can work as a support for other habitat conservation efforts
Flagship Species: A flagship species is an organism that serves as an ambassador or symbol for an ecosystem with the public, or environmental cause such as the Giant Panda or Giraffe (World Wildlife Fund). It is possible to make the Karner Blue butterfly an effective flagship species of its ecosystem. A study done by Elsevier, an information analytic company, tested students’ affinity towards 27 different species. In the results the students ranked the status or importance of butterflies above all other insects, along with birds and mammals (Schlegel). The students’ affinity grew for a certain species if they knew of its population status and environmental benefits. In a different study done in Switzerland, researchers outlined the best characteristics of a flagship species. They found that “birds will awaken more sympathy than insects” because birds are more human-like than insects (Home). However, though this is contrasting to Elsevier’s research, this study shows that if no other species is available, the less charismatic organism is possible to become a local flagship species. Clover Stem Weevil (Ischnopterapionvirens) became the optimal flagship species for Lugano, Switzerland even though it does not fit most flagship requirements (Home). The Karner Blue’s endangered status and brilliant blue wings may qualify it to be a flagship species. To use flagship as a conservation tactic will need some encouragement. Though the Karner Blue Butterfly is attractive in nature and it has an endangered status, it is not yet known about to the general public unlike the popular Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). The Monarch has a similar story to the Karner Blue. Its dependence on Milkweed led to to become endangered when Milkweed became scarce. Unlike the Karner Blue, the Monarch Butterfly gained flagship status and the help from citizen scientists supported the Monarch population. The Monarch Waystation Program works with student organizations to build habitat for migrating Monarchs. As of October, 2017, there are 18,888 waystations established in the registry (Lovett). In the data below, Monarch populations have increased sharply from 2015-2016 compared to recent earlier years. Though information remains unknown on how much the flagship status and conservation efforts by citizen scientists contributed to the population increases, they are reputable for creating large amounts of habitats that would not have normally been established which would aid to survival.
(“Monarchs as a Flagship Species for Conservation.”) Flagship status for the Karner Blue could produce great benefits for its species and habitat. Support of the Karner Blue as a flagship species would also be as an umbrella species (helping a single species provides benefits to many others) for the Oak Savannah ecosystem, assisting other rare species within the ecosystem such as the Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus) and Persius Duskywing Skippers (Erynnis persius persius) (Department of Conservation and Research). Though the ideal flagship species is “both a charismatic and an indicator species” (one whose presence indicates the health status of its habitat), it does not have to contribute greatly to an ecological function to become popular (Home). The United States Fish and Wildlife Service recommends flagship be used to help support the recovery of the Karner Blue Butterfly (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly 5 Year Review.”). Making the Karner Blue Butterfly a flagship species would require an educational outreach to the public on why it should have such a title (Schlegel). It will take time to gain the amount of support species like the Monarch have. Even if the outreach does not gain mass amounts of support there will still be benefits coming from the people the information did reach. There are many different ways to spread information about conservation so each site could customize it to their needs. Making the Karner Blue Butterfly a flagship species has potential as long as information is given to the public and the public responds favorably.
Protected Habitat: Once a Karner Blue Butterfly habitat becomes established, it could become a protected area. Protecting it would reinforce the efforts made to increase the habitat’s quality. The Karner Blue’s habitat is oak savannas and pine barrens, but in recent years they have also been associated with “remnant barrens and savannas, highway and powerline right-of-ways, gaps within forest stands, young forest stands, forest roads and trails, airports, and military camps” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). Creating protected lands will preserve the undisturbed ecosystems that are left. Getting enough reserved habitat to house an entire metapopulation requires many acres of land. In the Albany Pine bush of New York a metapopulation “requires at least 320 acres of suitable habitat” to support its sub-populations (Gifford). It is not possible, in many cases, to reserve so much land to conservancy. Karner Blue habitat is often on private land or near road and utility corridors, therefore conserving plenty of land would be optimal it may not be reasonable. Regardless, any protected area helps preserve the ecosystem. Oak savannas are one of the rarest ecosystems in Canada (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.”). Karner Blue Butterflies could be found in Canada before the habitat became endangered. Now, they are extinct in Canada although reintroduction programs are in progress. Reintroduction would not be needed if the habitat was first protected. On the other side, climate change threatens the Karner Blue’s ecosystem. “Warming climate will create issues (e.g., asynchronous timing of the emergence of the Karner Blue host plant, wild lupine, and the hatching of the caterpillars, etc.)” even if the existing status of the habitat is undisturbed by humans (Parkanzky). For the time being, land protection and conservation efforts will slow the decrease in population by diminishing the threats to their habitat. Protecting habitat does not solely benefit the Karner Blue, but also by managing the forests, invasive species management is advanced. Keeping Karner Blue habitat maintained means the removal of invasive species like the Black Locust Clone (Robinia pseudoacacia) and the planting of native plants (Gifford). It helps similar rare species that depend on this type of ecosystem thrive. For the nearby society, parks provide a place for public recreation, higher water quality and higher air quality.
Conclusion: Conservationists use a variety of procedures to help rebuild the Karner Blue Butterfly population. Each process has its own values and limitations. Surveying helps the Karner Blue indirectly by assessing each site but is susceptible to uncertainty in the data. Both controlled burning and mowing control woody vegetation succession. Burning is preferred because it is the most similar to the wildfires that once maintained the ecosystems. Lupine planting also helps regain lost habitat in a different way although, Lupine plants are challenging to grow because the species is very fragile. When the habitats are remade, it can be established as protected land however, land protection costs more to manage. Captive rearing or breeding is one of the more difficult methods to conserve the Karner Blue, but it has a direct impact of the population of the species. Making the Karner Blue a flagship species would be very beneficial to the protection of the species because it would get citizen scientists involved in its conservation. However it is a risk to put efforts towards this accomplishment as the public may not engage in a small, rare butterfly they may never see. All of these methods help support Karner Blue Butterfly population. Magdich believes that continued habitat restoration is the most beneficial for supporting populations (Parkanzky). A combination of prescribed burnings done on portions of a habitat within 4 years apart and captive breeding or rearing programs benefit the most on supporting current habitats and subpopulations. Planting Lupine, labeling established Karner Blue sites, and promoting it as a flagship species are also beneficial actions, however these methods are secondary and add to conservation value, but should not be used as the primary conservation practice. Using these methods individually, by themselves, will not significantly improve the populations of Karner Blue unless used in conjunction with a larger comprehensive project. The Karner Blue Butterfly is one species out of many that are facing extinction by similar situations caused by humans. It helps significantly to save all species that are possible to save. Increased biodiversity and enhancing functioning ecosystems will only increase the health and resilience of the environment.