N Deposition Effects on Hermes Copper Butterfly (Lycaena hermes) Habitat in Southern California

Liberty Malter1, George Vourlitis2, Alison Anderson3 and Tracey Brown4

Atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition has become a global concern over the past few decades as population sizes have increased. San Diego County, CA, USA, with a high population density, Mediterranean-type climate, and high biodiversity, is an ideal site for an extensive N deposition study. Chronic anthropogenic N deposition is one of the main contributing factors to affect plant species diversity (Vourlitis and Pasquini 2009) and invasive species encroachment (Minnich and Dezzani 1998). It is also the location of the rare endemic Hermes copper butterfly (Lycaena hermes), which has received minimal research and remains a mystery to many ecologists. We hypothesized that N deposition will impact Hermes abundance; however, there is limited research on the effects of N deposition on butterfly habitat. Thus, this study aims to determine the effect of increased N on the alterations to plant-insect interactions. These effects are being measured at five sites throughout San Diego County in current or historical Hermes copper habitat. N deposition collectors have been placed under the canopy of spiny redberry shrubs (Rhamnus crocea) to accumulate N throughfall at each site. Soil and redberry stem fragments are being used to analyze total N and Carbon (C), water potential, and shrub growth throughout the course of this study. Despite the preliminary nature of our results, we show a number of trends between data groups, such as large differences in soil and tissue N and C between the study sites, suggesting differences in atmospheric N inputs. These variations in soil N availability lead to variations in leaf tissue chemistry, which can ultimately impact the performance of the Hermes copper larvae. Our current data demonstrate some clear trends, but whether these trends remain consistent and interpretable remains to be seen. We anticipate this research will increase our understanding of spatial variation patterns of N deposition in southern California and how that N input might affect the rare Hermes copper butterfly and its host plant, Rhamnus crocea. Furthermore, these data are important because they might help us understand why Hermes is in decline and which sites should be prioritized for management.


1California State University San Marcos, isbel007@cougars.csusm.edu
2California State University San Marcos, georgev@csusm.edu
3United States Fish and Wildlife Service, alison_anderson@fws.gov
4California State University San Marcos, traceyb@csusm.edu