Dispersal of open-habitat butterflies in managed forest landscapes: are colonisers special?

  • M.-L. Viljur
  • A. Relve
  • M. Gimbutas
  • A. Kaasik
  • T. Teder


Forests managed by clear-cutting, rich in open spaces, provide alternative habitat for many grassland butterfly species in boreal and temperate environments. We have recently shown that local butterfly assemblages in forest openings are shaped by environmental filtering rather than dispersal limitation. However, at the level of individual movements, forest is known to form dispersal barrier for open-habitat butterflies—routine movements associated with resource exploitation do not result in dispersal in such landscapes. Typically, clear-cuts are varyingly surrounded by forest, meaning that movements between them and colonisation of newly created clear-cuts often require crossing hard boundaries between open habitat and matrix. Butterflies making such dispersal decisions may not be a random sample of individuals from the population. We used this semi-experimental landscape configuration with distinct habitat patches and matrix to examine if dispersal decisions are associated with special morphological phenotypes. Contrary to expectations, we found no significant associations between flight morphology and realised dispersal decisions—colonisers of isolated clear-cuts (fully surrounded by forest) did not differ from individuals of surrounding non-isolated habitats in any of measured wing traits. The differences in flight morphology between contrasting sites were negligible in all species and there were no consistent differences between males and females. As a possible interpretation, we link our findings to frequent, deterministic events of habitat loss and formation in forests managed by clear-cutting which may imply that virtually all phenotypes in such landscapes represent “dispersal phenotypes”.


Dispersal ability Dispersal propensity Dispersal syndrome Emigration Forestry Wing aspect ratio 



We thank Reetta Hämäläinen, Sille Holm and Kristiina Taits for field assistance, Tiit Matson for providing forestry data and Toomas Tammaru for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by institutional research funding (IUT20-33) of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research and by Grant No. 42900/1312/3166 of the Internal Grant Agency of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  2. 2.Faculty of Environmental SciencesCzech University of Life Sciences PraguePraha - SuchdolCzech Republic

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