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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Deciding how often and when to use prescribed fire can be tricky, especially when managing for rare butterflies, University of Florida scientists say.
That realization stems from a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural study in which researchers experimented with pupae — insects in their immature form between larvae and adults — of butterflies known to frequent fire-prone habitats of Florida.
Prescribed burns and wildfires can damage animals and plants in their paths. But they can also promote species and create habitat, maintaining the ecological balance of the forest and the region’s most frequent natural disturbance over the long term. Immature butterflies may die immediately following controlled burns, but populations can recover over time, with the amount of time depending on the species.
Scientists are concerned that butterflies with small, isolated populations may be in severe peril if their habitats are burned too frequently and in large blocks at a time, which can mean that butterfly refugia – unburned areas that provide refuge — are limited.
In the UF/IFAS study, scientists wanted to know how and why some butterflies survive wildfires and prescribed burns, particularly where the insect feeds and lays eggs on fire-adapted plants.