Blue Lupine and the Karner Blue Butterfly

Dependence on wild seed sources is often impractical for large-scale habitat restoration programs thereby warranting reliance on commercial seed supplies of unknown provenance and fitness. We used microsatellite markers and a common garden experiment to evaluate commercial and locally collected seed sources for use in a New York State-based, landscape-scale program for restoring blue lupine Lupinus perennis, the host plant for the federally-listed (Endangered) Lycaeides melissa samuelis (Karner blue butterfly).

Project: Determination of Lupine Variability and Implications for Karner Blue Butterfly Management

We determined that seeds sold as “wild blue lupine” by three commercial sources were hybrids (L. perennis x L. polyphyllus); thus, “native” designations by some commercial suppliers were unreliable.  This said, at least two commercial sources were as close genetically to native New York populations as native New York populations were to one other.  Seed source influenced first-year over-wintering survival and subsequent height growth of surviving plants; seed sources more closely related genetically to native New York populations survived better and exhibited more robust growth in the field in the area targeted for restoration.  We conclude that (1) selected commercial suppliers can provide seed sources of sufficient genetic similarity to native populations to warrant their use in habitat restoration efforts, and (2) genetic affinity of potential seed stock to native populations is related to its fitness in the environment targeted for restoration.

Location: Rome, New York

Timeline: ongoing since 2008

Principal investigators:
Andrew E. Newhouse, James P. Gibbs, Donald J. Leopold
SUNY-ESF, Syracuse, New York, USA and Lawrence B. Smart, Cornell University

New York State Dept. Environmental Conservation

James P. Gibbs
SUNY-ESF, Syracuse, NY 13210 USA, 315/470-6764