, Volume 124, Issue 2, pp 196-207

Relationships among climate, latitude and migration: Australian butterflies are not temperate-zone birds

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Abstract 

We examined the distribution of butterflies over the mostly arid and semi-arid continent of Australia and analyzed the proportion of migrant species and species diversity with respect to an array of climatic and geographic variables. On a continent-wide scale, latitude explained virtually no variance in either proportion of migrants (r 2=0.01) or species diversity (r 2=0.03) in Australian butterflies. These results are in marked contrast to those for temperate-zone birds from three continents where latitude explained between 82 and 98% of the variance in frequency of migrants and also accounted for much of the variance in bird species diversity. In eastern Australia where rainfall regimes are similar to those in temperate Europe and North and South America, latitude explains 78% of the variance in frequency of butterfly migrants. In both eastern and central Australia, latitude also accounts for relatively high proportions of the variance in species diversity. Rainfall patterns and especially soil moisture are negatively associated with migration frequency in Australian butterfly faunas, both alone and in combination with other climate variables. Where moisture levels are relatively high, as in eastern Australia, measures of temperature are associated with migration frequency, a result consistent with findings for temperate-zone birds, suggesting latitude is a surrogate for temperature. The ultimate causes of migration in temperate-zone birds and Australian butterflies are the uneven temporal, and in Australia also spatial, distribution of resources. Uneven distribution is brought about primarily by temperature in temperate regions and by erratic rainfall over much of arid Australia. As a key determinant of productivity, especially in the tropics and subtropics, aridity is likely to be an important determinant of the global distributions of migrants.

Received: 14 July 1999 / Accepted: 12 January 2000