Biology ETDs

Publication Date



This research investigated three study topics pertaining to the habitat and ecology of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) with the goal of contributing to effective conservation for this rare species. In the first study, abiotic and biotic habitat variables were found to be different between occupied and unoccupied habitat. Connectivity, host plant resource concentration, and plant structural diversity corresponded with butterfly presence at the scales of landscape, meadow, host plant patch, and natal host plant. High habitat quality, low isolation, broad host plant patch area, and high host plant patch density were associated with occupied habitats. Adults were tightly associated with the distribution of the preferred nectar source within a meadow, Helenium hoopseii. The second study investigated interactions of E. a. cloudcrofti and its primary host plant Penstemon neomexicanus, with two other common factors in their environment: soil disturbance by pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) and grazing by Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni). Interactions among the butterfly, gopher soil disturbance, and elk grazing were significant during one year, but not the next, revealing the dynamic nature of this system. The strongest and most consistent relationship discovered was between elk grazing on P. neomexicanus plants growing on gopher mounds. To accommodate low population numbers and buffer the butterfly against changes in climate or habitat connectivity on a scale meaningful to highly sensitive larvae, the third study tested effects of transplanting additional host plants adjacent to occupied host plants in the field. Results showed that pre-diapause larvae can benefit from an increase in nearby host plants. Larval abundance and length responded most favorably to large host plants with broad plant and stem diameters, many leaves, and tall heights, and affiliation with a patch. Novel strategies to conserve rare butterflies and other pollinators must be adopted to restore and maintain landscape heterogeneity and connectivity and at different scales, without harming individuals during implementation. Overall findings demonstrate that this butterfly responds to connectivity and abundance of required resources at all spatial scales and that disturbance processes maintaining early successional, open conditions are important in sustaining this butterfly into the future.

Project Sponsors

United States Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Geological Survey-Biological Resources Division




butterfly, endemic, habitat, conservation

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Biology Department

First Committee Member (Chair)

Brantley, Sandra

Second Committee Member

Lowrey, Tim

Third Committee Member

Coonrod, Julie