Status of Platte River Prairies Regal Fritillaries

Ecologist Chris Helzer, Nebraska-based program director for The Nature Conservancy, writes on his blog The Prairie Ecologist that prairie restoration and management strategies in the Platte River region that “Some people may be surprised to hear that regal fritillary butterfly populations are thriving in the central Platte River valley – a landscape dominated mainly by rowcrop agriculture and degraded prairie plant communities.”

Summarizing the results of two seasons of field work on Regal Fritillaries in the area, Chris notes that “the species is doing very well in Nebraska, and the central Platte River valley has some of the highest concentrations of regals in the country, but the species is of conservation concern because of its extreme rarity elsewhere in its historic range.  In addition to informing our work, we hope that studying the species where it’s common can help inform conservation efforts in those places where it’s rare.”

Chris notes that Regal Fritillaries rely on violets as the sole food source for their larvae, and that grazing in Platte River valley may actually benefit the frits.  “In our Platte River Prairies, the only perennial violet species we have is the common blue violet (Viola sororia).  In much of the eastern tallgrass prairie, prairie violets (V. pedatifida) or bird’s foot violets (V. pedata) are thought to be the preferred species, but we don’t get those species in our area.  Fortunately, the common blue violet thrives in pastures with long histories of annual intensive grazing, so the supply of larval food sources is not limited in our landscape.  It may be that the abundance of violets and the amount of grassland left in the valley are the two primary reasons for the regal fritillary’s continued success here.”

You can read Chris’ blog piece on Platte River prairie Regal Fritillaries on his blog, or skip to the scientific summary of his work here:  2011regalbflysummary_platte1

 

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