Population ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 167, Issue 3, pp 657-665

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Evidence for positive density-dependent emigration in butterfly metapopulations

  • Piotr NowickiAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University Email author 
  • , Vladimir VrabecAffiliated withFaculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources, Czech University of Life Sciences


A positive effect of (meta)population density on emigration has been predicted by many theoretical models and confirmed empirically in various organisms. However, in butterflies, the most popular species for dispersal studies, the evidence for its existence has so far been equivocal, with negative relationships between density and emigration being reported more frequently. We analysed dispersal in sympatric metapopulations of two Maculinea butterflies, intensively surveyed with mark–release–recapture methods for 7 years. Dispersal parameters, derived using the virtual migration model, were assessed against butterfly densities, which fluctuated strongly over the study period. Emigration was positively correlated with density, and this effect was particularly strong at densities above carrying capacity, when emigration increased up to threefold in females and twofold in males compared with the normal levels. In turn, density had little impact on other dispersal parameters analysed. Our findings provide good evidence for positive density-dependence of emigration in butterflies. Emigrating at high densities is particularly beneficial for females, because it gives them a chance to lay part of their egg-load in less crowded patches, where offspring survival is higher due to lower intraspecific competition. Even though the rise in emigration becomes considerable at densities exceeding carrying capacity, i.e. relatively infrequently, it still has serious implications for many ecological phenomena, such as species range expansions, gene flow, and metapopulation persistence. Consequently, instead of treating emigration as a fixed trait, it is worth allowing for its density-dependence in applications such as population viability analyses, genetic models or metapopulation models.


Carrying capacity Dispersal Maculinea Mark–recapture Virtual migration model