Butterfly Biodiversity Increases with Prairie Strips and Conservation Management in Row Crop Agriculture
Authors: Lindsey R. Kemmerling | Annabelle C. McCarthy | Cameron S. Brown | Nick M. Haddad
1. Butterfly abundances are declining globally, with meta-analysis showing a rate of -2% per year. Agriculture contributes to butterfly decline through habitat loss and degradation. Prairie strips—strips of farmland actively restored to native perennial vegetation—are a conservation practice with the potential to mitigate biodiversity loss, but their impact on butterfly biodiversity is not known.
2. Working within a 30-year-old experiment that varied land use intensity, from natural areas to croplands (maize–soy–wheat rotation), we introduced prairie strips to less intensely managed crop treatments. Treatments included conservation land, biologically based (organic) row crops with prairie strips, reduced input row crops with prairie strips, no-till row crops and conventional row crops. We measured butterfly abundance and richness: (1) within prairie strips and (2) across the gradient of land use intensity at the plot level.
3. Butterfly abundance was higher within prairie strips than in all other treatments. Across the land use intensity gradient at the plot level, the conservation land treatment had the highest abundance, treatments with prairie strips had intermediate levels and no-till and conventional treatments had the lowest abundances. Also across entire plots, butterfly richness increased as land use intensity decreased. Treatments with prairie strips, which also had reduced land use intensity, had distinct butterfly communities as they harboured several butterfly species that were not found in other row crop treatments.
4. In addition to the known effects of prairie strips on ecosystem services including erosion control and increased water quality, prairie strips can increase biodiversity in multifunctional landscapes.