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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Host plant density and patch isolation drive occupancy and abundance at a butterfly's northern range margin

Fourcade, Yoan; Öckinger, Erik


Marginal populations are usually small, fragmented, and vulnerable to extinction, which makes them particularly interesting from a conservation point of view. They are also the starting point of range shifts that result from climate change, through a process involving colonization of newly suitable sites at the cool margin of species distributions. Hence, understanding the processes that drive demography and distribution at high-latitude populations is essential to forecast the response of species to global changes. We investigated the relative importance of solar irradiance (as a proxy for microclimate), habitat quality, and connectivity on occupancy, abundance, and population stability at the northern range margin of the Oberthur's grizzled skipper butterfly Pyrgus armoricanus. For this purpose, butterfly abundance was surveyed in a habitat network consisting of 50 habitat patches over 12 years. We found that occupancy and abundance (average and variability) were mostly influenced by the density of host plants and the spatial isolation of patches, while solar irradiance and grazing frequency had only an effect on patch occupancy. Knowing that the distribution of host plants extends further north, we hypothesize that the actual variable limiting the northern distribution of P. armoricanus might be its dispersal capacity that prevents it from reaching more northern habitat patches. The persistence of this metapopulation in the face of global changes will thus be fundamentally linked to the maintenance of an efficient network of habitats.


climate change; habitat quality; land-use; metapopulation; microclimate; peripheral populations

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2017, volume: 7, number: 1, pages: 331-345

Authors' information

Fourcade, Yoan
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology

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