Population turnover, habitat use and microclimate at the contracting range margin of a butterfly

Robert J. Wilson, Jonathan Bennie, Callum R. Lawson, David Pearson, Gorka Ortuzar-Ugarte, David Gutierrez

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Climate change is expected to drive patterns of extinction and colonisation that are correlated with geographic gradients in the climate, such as latitude and elevation. However, local population dynamics also depend on the fine-scale effects of vegetation and topography on resource availability and microclimate. Understanding how this fine-scale variation influences population survival in the face of changing climatic favourability could provide clues for adapting conservation to climate change. Here, we document a long-term decline of the butterfly Parnassius apollo in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range in central Spain, and examine recent population turnover and habitat use by the species to make inferences about its ecology and conservation. A decline since the 1960s throughout the elevation range suggests a regional deterioration in favourability for the species. Since 2006, local habitat quality has been the main correlate of population persistence, with populations that persisted from 2006 to 2012 associated with high availability of larval host plants. At a finer resolution, the larval distribution in a network of suitable habitat in 2011 and 2012 was most closely related to bare ground cover. Thus, although slope, aspect and elevation lead to considerable variation in microhabitat temperatures during the period of P. apollo larval development, vegetation structure appears to have been the most critical factor for local habitat use and population persistence. The results show that site selection and management retain key roles in conservation despite the broad-scale effects of environmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-216
JournalJournal of Insect Conservation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Connectivity
  • Extirpation
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Metapopulation
  • Range limit
  • Range shift
  • international


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