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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Alcon Blues: recent shifts in limiting habitat factors challenge the persistence of an endangered butterfly

WallisDeVries, Michiel F.; Bokelaar, Jens; Kok, Alfred; Limpens, Juul; Luijten, Sheila; Oostermeijer, J. Gerard B.; van Marrewijk, Roel C. H.; van Stipdonk, Arno H.; Vicente, Ines; Vogel, Cassandra; Wynhoff, Irma


Insect habitat specialists have declined more than generalists over the last decades. Understanding how habitat requirements and increased climate variability interact to explain persistence of populations is needed to enable effective conservation measures. Habitat specialists with a complex life cycle, such as myrmecophilous butterflies, are likely to be most vulnerable. Here, we explored to what extent the habitat factors explaining population persistence of the Alcon blue (Phengaris alcon), changed over a 25-year period in the Netherlands, contrasting the recent years 2018-2022 with extreme droughts with the preceding period 1998-2017 characterized by occasional climatic extremes. Population persistence of P. alcon over 1998-2017 as explained by historical habitat conditions was significantly higher in large heathland areas with large patches of its host plant Gentiana pneumonanthe. On the basis of current conditions, population persistence until 2017 was best explained by a combination of host plant area and quality. In contrast, persistence over the recent drought years was most closely associated with increasing occupancy of the optimal host ant Myrmica ruginodis and lower occupancy of competitive and predatory Lasius ants.Implications for insect conservation We conclude that critical habitat conditions change under increasing climatic extremes and that the availability of sufficient optimal host ants has become more critical than that of host plants. The results emphasise that both large-scale hydrological restoration and small-scale management for heterogeneity are necessary to preserve P. alcon and its habitat in the Netherlands. This is also likely to apply to other habitat specialists with complex life cycles from threatened habitats.


Insect decline; Butterflies; Habitat conditions; Environmental change; Climatic warming; Weather extremes

Published in

Journal of Insect Conservation
Publisher: SPRINGER

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