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Butterfly dispersal in farmland: a replicated landscape genetics study on the meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina)



Anthropogenic activities readily result in the fragmentation of habitats such that species persistence increasingly depends on their ability to disperse. However, landscape features that enhance or limit individual dispersal are often poorly understood. Landscape genetics has recently provided innovative solutions to evaluate landscape resistance to dispersal.


We studied the dispersal of the common meadow brown butterfly, Maniola jurtina, in agricultural landscapes, using a replicated study design and rigorous statistical analyses. Based on existing behavioral and life history research, we hypothesized that the meadow brown would preferentially disperse through its preferred grassy habitats (meadows and road verges) and avoid dispersing through woodlands and the agricultural matrix.


Samples were collected in 18 study landscapes of 5 × 5 km in three contrasting agricultural French regions. Using circuit theory, least cost path and transect-based methods, we analyzed the effect of the landscape on gene flow separately for each sex.


Analysis of 1681 samples with 6 microsatellites loci revealed that landscape features weakly influence meadow brown butterfly gene flow. Gene flow in both sexes appeared to be weakly limited by forests and arable lands, whereas grasslands and grassy linear elements (road verges) were more likely to enhance gene flow.


Our results are consistent with the hypothesis of greater dispersal through landscape elements that are most similar to suitable habitat. Our spatially replicated landscape genetics study allowed us to detect subtle landscape effects on butterfly gene flow, and these findings were reinforced by consistent results across analytical methods.

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Study landscape selection was developed in collaboration with F. Catalayud and I. Lahlou. We thank L. Barbaro, I. Bilger, B. Castagneyrol, Y. Charbonnier, A. Charmeau, and F. Vetillard for their participation in the field work, and Y. Paillet for his relevant comments and help with statistical analyses. We thank V. Moore for thorough language corrections on the first draft of the manuscript. This project was supported by the LEVANA project financed by the French Ministry of Environment (program DIVA 3, contract 12-MBGD-DIVA-5-CVS-030). MB and VMS acknowledge financial support from the French National Research Agency (ANR) programs open call INDHET, and young researcher GEMS (ANR-13-JSV7-0010-01). MB, MR and VMS are part of the ‘Laboratoire d’Excellence’ (LABEX) entitled TULIP (ANR-10-LABX-41).

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Correspondence to Anne Villemey.

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Villemey, A., Peterman, W.E., Richard, M. et al. Butterfly dispersal in farmland: a replicated landscape genetics study on the meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina). Landscape Ecol 31, 1629–1641 (2016).

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  • Agricultural landscape
  • Gene flow
  • Landscape resistance
  • Lepidoptera
  • Linear mixed-effect model
  • Movement
  • Spatial replication