Larvae of the Karner blue butterfly, Lycaeides melissa samuelis, feed solely on wild lupine, Lupinus perennis, from the emergence to summer senescence of the plant. Wild lupine is most abundant in open areas but Karner blue females oviposit more frequently on lupines growing in moderate shade. Can differences in lupine quality between open and shaded areas help explain this disparity in resource use? Furthermore, many lupines are senescent before the second larval brood completes development. How does lupine senescence affect larval growth? We addressed these questions by measuring growth rates of larvae fed lupines of different phenological stages and lupines growing under different shade conditions. The habitat conditions under which lupines grew and plant phenological stage did not generally affect final larval or pupal weight but did significantly affect duration of the larval period. Duration was shortest for larvae fed leaves from flowering lupines and was negatively correlated with leaf nitrogen concentration. Ovipositing in areas of moderate shade should increase second-brood larval exposure to flowering lupines. In addition, larval growth was significantly faster on shade-grown lupines that were in seed than on similar sun-grown lupines. These are possible advantages of the higher-than-expected oviposition rate on shade-grown lupines. Given the canopy-related trade-off between lupine abundance and quality, maintenance of canopy heterogeneity is an important conservation management goal. Larvae were also fed leaves growing in poor soil conditions and leaves with mildew infection. These and other feeding treatments that we anticipated would inhibit larval growth often did not. In particular, ant-tended larvae exhibited the highest weight gain per amount of lupine eaten and a relatively fast growth rate. This represents an advantage of ant tending to Karner blue larvae.
Additional publication details
The effect of canopy cover and seasonal change on host plant quality for the endangered Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)