Original Paper

Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 241-258

Evidence based conservation of butterflies

  • J. A. ThomasAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of OxfordCEH Wallingford Email author 
  • , D. J. SimcoxAffiliated withCEH Wallingford
  • , T. HovestadtAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of OxfordMuséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

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Few results of research aimed at solving questions arising from butterfly conservation are rigorously tested by manipulating populations and habitats in the field. Some factors common to successful conservation projects are analysed. In most non-migratory species, population density may vary by up to two orders of magnitude between sites or over time, and is primarily determined by the extent to which a subset of each species’ foodplant (or ant host) exists in the optimum growth-form or micro-habitat preferred by its larvae. Successful conservation projects have identified the optimum subset of each species’ larval resource before managing sites to increase its representation. In contrast, short-term fluctuations around a site’s carrying capacity or equilibrium level are mainly attributable to variation in weather, and are generally two orders of magnitude smaller than that attributable to larval habitat quality. There is little evidence that changing the abundance of adult resources, apart from shelter, influences population size or trends. The main constraint of the adult stage is the inability of many species to track the generation of new habitat patches that arise across modern landscapes. Within-patch larval habitat quality is again critical at the meta-population scale, explaining slightly more examples of patch occupancy than site isolation. This is because the higher density populations supported by optimum habitat are less likely to go extinct, and immigrants to new high-quality patches have a higher probability of founding new populations. Such patches may also generate up to a hundred times more emigrants per hectare than low-quality source patches.


Habitat quality Metapopulation Butterfly population dynamics Larval niche Dispersal