Fort McCoy News Aug. 14, 2015

Researchers gather Karner blue butterfly data

Public Affairs Staff

A research team from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) visited Fort McCoy to study the Karner blue butterfly (KBB) and its habitat.

University of Notre Dame doctoral graduate student Lainey Pasternak, along with a summer undergraduate research assistant from Notre Dame's Saint Mary's College and two employees from the USGS Lake Michigan Ecological Field Station at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, visited Fort McCoy for three days in June.

Photo 1
A Karner blue butterfly hatched from eggs collected at Fort McCoy rests on a researcher's hand. Contributed photos.

"(The visit) was for my (doctoral) thesis research in the Hellmann Lab (at Notre Dame)," Pasternak said. "I will be exploring research questions investigating the effect of temperature on Karner blue and wild lupine phenology. To undertake this project idea, I needed to establish a new experimental laboratory colony of Karner blues at Notre Dame. In order to start a new colony, I needed to obtain Karner blue eggs from adults in the field."

The Karner blue butterfly first was observed at Fort McCoy more than 25 years ago and is listed as an endangered species, said Endangered Species Biologist Tim Wilder of the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch (NRB). NRB efforts have helped increase the butterfly's population throughout the installation in recent years. Now that success is helping Pasternak build a Karner colony at Notre Dame.

"We collected female butterflies at various sites at Fort McCoy, put them in oviposition (egg-laying) containers, and collected their eggs at the end of the day," Pasternak said. "In each cage, a female was provided a flowering plant, lupine leaves, sticks for climbing and sunning, and Q-tips with honey mixture and water as a food source.

"The eggs that I collected were raised as larvae and pupae," Pasternak said. "Once they emerged as adults, they were mated in adulthood to produce eggs that will overwinter and be kept in temperature-controlled environmental chambers. As a chapter of my thesis, I will assess the effect that changing temperature has on the phenology of and synchrony between the KBB and wild lupine. This experiment will aim to explain the potential phenological mismatch between these species in the field and show their sensitivity to temperature change."

Photo 2
University of Notre Dame graduate
student Lainey Pasternak works in her
lab at Notre Dame.

Pasternak said the collected eggs are fostering a second generation in the lab, which will in turn produce third-generation overwintering eggs for an experiment in summer 2016. She said the collected specimens are doing well in the lab environment.
"After collecting eggs in Wisconsin, we spent the entire summer maintaining the colony population throughout all the progressing life stages," Pasternak said. "We did not run any experiments this summer, as our only purpose was to produce a healthy, genetically diverse population for a climate-change experiment next summer."

Wilder said the research hopefully will provide insight in how to better manage the species. "It was long thought that the best KBB habitat (wild lupine and nectar plants) was located in more open grassland and savanna habitats," he said. "It is beginning to look like it will be very important to also have habitat in areas that provide shade to buffer against high temperatures.

"The research also will likely provide some insight into how KBB populations will react to warmer temperatures or extremes in temperatures," Wilder said. "For example, this portion of Wisconsin had extremely warm temperatures during the spring of 2010 and 2012. KBB eggs were hatching much earlier than normal. If this begins to happen more often, how might this impact KBB populations as a whole?"

Pasternak said the research will assist Karner land-management efforts on adapting to climate change in the region.

"Our lab, in partnership with the USGS Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station, has been investigating potential effects of climate change on the Karner blue butterfly for the past four years," Pasternak said.

"The KBB is susceptible to changes in habitat quality and climate," she said. "Not only will this experiment forecast how the KBB and wild lupine respond to climate change, but it also will provide basic biological insight into potential phenological gaps between other herbivores and their host plants. This could help inform what kind of changes have occurred or are occurring in places with very low Karner populations, like at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore."

Pasternak said the NRB staff was "extremely helpful" in supporting the research during the visit.

"Tim Wilder was very supportive of my Karner collection and research proposal for next summer, and Dave Beckmann provided great feedback on adapting to initial difficulties of prompting the females to lay eggs in the field," Pasternak said. "Also, Nathan Tucker spent multiple days with my field team showing us around to numerous Karner sites, helping us construct oviposition enclosures and catching butterflies. Our collection success at Fort McCoy was greatly attributed to the support of the (NRB) staff."

Once the research is complete, Pasternak said she plans to share the results with land managers and scientists at the Karner Blue Butterfly National Recovery Team, in addition to the land managers in Wisconsin who made the project possible.

For more information about the Karner blue butterfly and endangered species at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-5679.