Georgia Journal of Science


Coastal grasslands are globally threatened by development and natural succession. In the southeastern United States, these increasingly rare ecosystems are being managed using prescribed fire, but ecological responses to fire management are largely unknown, particularly among nontargeted species. We tested for short-term effects of controlled burning on the abundance and species richness of adult butterflies, which utilize coastal grasslands for nectaring resources and as migratory stopover sites. In February 2015, four plots of coastal grassland on Little St. Simons Island, GA were burned and paired with unburned (control) plots of equal size. Throughout the following summer-fall flight season, we conducted monthly point-count surveys of adult butterflies. Burn and control plots did not differ in butterfly abundance or species richness. Only one species, the Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), exhibited a significant response to the fire treatment; it was more likely to occur in burned areas. Overall, we found no evidence that controlled burning negatively impacts the adult butterfly assemblage utilizing coastal grassland habitat; prescribed fire may therefore be a viable management technique to conserve a range of biodiversity in these imperiled ecosystems.