Skip to main content

Butterfly assemblages in residential gardens are driven by species’ habitat preference and mobility



Understanding the factors contributing to maintaining biodiversity is crucial to mitigate the impact of anthropogenic disturbances. Representing large proportions of green area in highly modified landscapes, residential gardens are often seen as local habitats that can contribute to larger networks of suitable environments at the landscape scale.


We investigated the impact of the landscape context on butterfly communities observed in residential gardens, taking into account garden characteristics, land-use types and presence of linear features in the surrounding landscape. We examined how species traits affected butterflies’ response to landscape context and habitat quality.


We performed a cross-scale study, based on citizen science data documenting butterfly species composition and abundance in 920 gardens across France. We examined the effect of garden quality, the area of different land-use types and the length of linear elements measured at three scales within the surrounding landscape. Species were grouped according to their habitat preference and mobility.


Urbanization negatively affected total species richness and the abundance of butterfly in each group. This was related to declining habitat quality and reduced area of suitable habitat in the surrounding landscape. The magnitude of this effect, however, was negatively correlated with mobility, a trait related to habitat preference. The spatial scale at which landscape context best explained variation in butterfly abundance changed with species’ habitat preference.


This study highlights the importance of preserving high quality habitats in altered landscapes and considering species’ mobility and habitat preference when assessing the impact of landscapes on butterfly communities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  • Agreste (2014) La statistique, l’évaluation et la prospective agricole. Accessed June 2015

  • Bates D, Maechler M, Bolker B (2013) lme4: linear mixed-effects models using S4 classes

  • Bergerot B, Fontaine B, Renard M, Cadi A, Julliard R (2010) Preferences for exotic flowers do not promote urban life in butterflies. Landsc Urban Plan 92:98–107

  • Bergerot B, Fontaine B, Julliard R, Baguette M (2011) Landscape variables impact the structure and composition of butterfly assemblages along an urbanization gradient. Landscape Ecol 26:83–94

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergman K-O, Askling J, Ekberg O, Ignell H, Wahlman H, Milberg P (2004) Landscape effects on butterfly assemblages in an agricultural region. Ecography 27:619–628

  • Bonte D, Van Dyck H, Bullock JM, Coulon A, Delgado M, Gibbs M, Lehouck V, Matthysen E, Mustin K, Saastamoinen M, Schtickzelle N, Stevens VN, Vandewoestijne S, Baguette M, Barton K, Benton TG, Chaput-Bardy A, Clobert J, Dytham C, Hovestadt T, Meier CM, Palmer SCF, Turlure C, and Travis JMJ (2012) Costs of dispersal. Biol Rev 87:290–312

  • Botham MS, Fernandez-Ploquin EC, Brereton T, Harrower CA, Roy DB, Heard MS (2015) Lepidoptera communities across an agricultural gradient: how important are habitat area and habitat diversity in supporting high diversity? J Insect Conserv 19:403–420

  • Brückmann SV, Krauss J, Steffan-Dewenter I (2010) Butterfly and plant specialists suffer from reduced connectivity in fragmented landscapes. J Appl Ecol 47:799–809

  • Burghardt KT, Tallamy DW, Gregory Shriver W (2009) Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes. Conserv Biol 23:219–224

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carrier J-A, Beebee TJC (2003) Recent, substantial, and unexplained declines of the common toad Bufo bufo in lowland England. Biol Conserv 111:395–399

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clobert J, Baguette M, Benton TG, Bullock JM, Ducatez S (2012) Dispersal ecology and evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Di Mauro D, Dietz T, Rockwood L (2007) Determining the effect of urbanization on generalist butterfly species diversity in butterfly gardens. Urban Ecosyst 10:427–439

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dupré C, Ehrlén J (2002) Habitat configuration, species traits and plant distributions. J Ecol 90:796–805

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • EEA (2010) Soil sealing data in aggregated spatial resolution (20 × 20 m). Accessed April 2013

  • Ekroos J, Heliölä J, Kuussaari M (2010) Homogenization of lepidoteran communities in intensively cultivated agricultural landscapes. J Appl Ecol 47:459–467

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekroos J, Rundlöf M, Smith HG (2013) Trait-dependent responses of flower-visiting insects to distance to semi-natural grasslands and landscape heterogeneity. Landscape Ecol 28:1283–1292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekroos J, Olsson O, Rundlöf M, Wätzold F, Smith HG (2014) Optimizing agri-environment schemes for biodiversity, ecosystem services or both? Biol Conserv 172:65–71

  • Flick T, Feagan S, Fahrig L (2012) Effects of landscape structure on butterfly species richness and abundance in agricultural landscapes in eastern Ontario, Canada. Agric Ecosyst Environ 156:123–133

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frey-Ehrenbold A, Bontadina F, Arlettaz R, Obrist MK (2013) Landscape connectivity, habitat structure and activity of bat guilds in farmland-dominated matrices. J Appl Ecol 50:252–261

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gaston KJ, Smith RM, Thompson K, Warren PH (2005) Urban domestic gardens (II): experimental tests of methods for increasing biodiversity. Biodivers Conserv 14:395–413

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hijmans RJ, Cameron SE, Parra JL, Jones PG, Jarvis A (2005) Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. Int J Climatol 25:1965–1978

  • Hopfenmüller S, Steffan-Dewenter I, Holzschuh A (2014) Trait-specific responses of wild bee communities to landscape composition. configuration and local factors. PLoS One 9(8):e104439. doi:10.1371/journal/pone.0104439

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Joppa LN, Pfaff A (2009) High and far: biases in the location of protected areas. PLoS One 4(12):e8273. doi:10.1371/journal/pone.0008273

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Julliard R, Clavel J, Devictor V, Jiguet F, Couvet D (2006) Spatial segregation of specialists and generalists in bird communities. Ecol Lett 9:1237–1244

  • Komonen A, Grapputo A, Kaitala V, Kotiaho JS, Päivinen J (2004) The role of niche breadth, resource availability and range position on the life history of butterflies. Oikos 105:41–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Krauss J, Steffan-Dewenter I, Tscharntke T (2003a) How does landscape context contribute to effects of habitat fragmentation on diversity and population density of butterflies? J Biogeogr 30:889–900

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Krauss J, Steffan-Dewenter I, Tscharntke T (2003b) Local species immigration, extinction, and turnover of butterflies in relation to habitat area and habitat isolation. Oecologia 137:591–602

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kuussaari M, Heliölä J, Pöyry J, Saarinen K (2007) Contrasting trends of butterfly species preferring semi-natural grasslands, fields margins and forest edges in northern Europ. J Insect Conserv 11:351–366

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lewandowski E, Specht H (2015) Influence of volunteer and project characteristics on data quality of biological surveys. Conserv Biol 29(3):713–723

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lizée MH, Manel S, Mauffrey JF, Tatoni T, Deschamps-Cottin M (2012) Matrix configuration and patch isolation influences override the species–area relationship for urban butterfly communities. Landsc Ecol 27:159–169

  • Loram A, Tratalos J, Warren PH, Gaston KJ (2007) Urban domestic gardens (X): the extent & structure of the resource in five major cities. Landscape Ecol 22:601–615

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Margules CR, Pressey RL (2000) Systematic conservation planning. Nature 405:243–253

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Marini L, Fontana P, Battisti A, Gaston KJ (2009) Agricultural management, vegetation traits and landscape drive orthopteran and butterfly diversity in a grassland–forest mosaic: a multi-scale approach. Insect Conserv Divers 2:213–220

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matter SF, Roland J (2002) An experimental examination of the effects of habitat quality on the dispersal and local abundance of the butterfly Parnassius smintheus. Ecol Entomol 27:308–316

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matteson KC, Langellotto GA (2010) Determinates of inner city butterfly and bee species richness. Urban Ecosyst 13:333–347

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McFrederick QS, LeBuhn G (2006) Are urban parks refuges for bumble bees Bombus spp. (Hymenoptera: Apidae)? Biol Conserv 129:372–382

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Menéndez R, González-Megías A, Collingham Y, Fox R, Roy DB, Ohlemüller R, Thomas CD (2007) Direct and indirect effects of climate and habitat factors on butterfly diversity. Ecol Soc Am 88:605–611

  • Munguira ML, Thomas JA (1992) Use of road verges by butterfly and burnet populations, and the effect of roads on adult dispersal and mortality. J Appl Ecol 29:316–329

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muratet A, Fontaine B (2015) Contrasting impacts of pesticides on butterflies and bumblebees in private gardens in France. Biol Conserv 182:148–154

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Öckinger E, Dannestam A, Smith HG (2009) The importance of fragmentation and habitat quality of urban grasslands for butterfly diversity. Landscape Urban Plan 93:31–37

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Öckinger E, Schweiger O, Crist TO, Debinski DM, Krauss J, Kuussaari M, Petersen JD, Pöyry J, Settele J, Summerville KS, Bommarco R (2010) Life-history traits predict species responses to habitat area and isolation: a cross-continental synthesis. Ecol Lett 13:969–979

  • Perović D, Gámez-Virués S, Börschig C, Klein A-M, Krauss J, Steckel J, Rothenwohrer C, Erasmi S, Tscharntke T, Westphal C (2015) Configurational landscape heterogeneity shapes functional community composition of grassland butterflies. J Appl Ecol 52:505–513

  • Petit S, Griffiths L, Smart SS, Smith GM, Stuart RC, Wright SM (2004) Effects of area and isolation of woodland patches on herbaceous plant species richness across Great Britain. Landscape Ecol 19:463–471

  • Pimm SL, Jenkins CN, Abell R, Brooks TM, Gittleman JL, Joppa LN, Raven PH, Roberts CM, Sexton JO (2014) The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection. Science 344:1246752

  • Pöyry J, Paukkunen J, Heliölä J, Kuussaari M (2009) Relative contributions of local and regional factors to species richness and total density of butterflies and moths in semi-natural grasslands. Oecologia 160:577–587

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Prokop G, Jobstmann H, Schönbauer A (2011) Report on best practices for limiting soil sealing and mitigating its effects. Study contracted by the European Commission. DG Environment, Brussels

  • R Core Team (2013) A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna

    Google Scholar 

  • Rands MRW, Adams WM, Bennun L, Butchart SHM, Clements A, Coomes D, Entwistle A, Hodge I, Kapos V, Scharlemann JPW, Sutherland WJ, Vira B (2010) Biodiversity conservation: challenges beyond 2010. Science 329:1298–1303

  • Ries L, Debinski DM, Wieland ML (2001) Conservation value of roadside prairie restoration to butterfly communities. Conserv Biol 15:401–411

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saarinen K, Valtonen A, Jantunen J, Saarnio S (2005) Butterflies and diurnal moths along road verges: does road type affect diversity and abundance? Biol Conserv 123:403–412

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sala OE, Chapin III FS, Armesto JJ, Berlow E, Bloomfield J, Dirzo R, Huber-Sanwald E, Huenneke LF, Jackson RB, Kinzig A, Leemans R, Lodge DM, Mooney HA, Oesterheld M, LeRoy Poff N, Sykes MT, Walker BH, Walker M, Wall DH (2000) Global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287:1770–1774

  • Schielzeth H (2010) Simple means to improve the interpretability of regression coefficients. Methods Ecol Evol 1:103–113

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schweiger O, Harpke A, Wiemers M, Settele J (2014) CLIMBER: climatic niche characteristics of the butterflies in Europe. Zookeys 367:65–84

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Shreeve TG, Mason CF (1980) The number of butterfly species in woodlands. Oecologia 45:414–418

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skórka P, Lenda M, Moroń D, Kalarus K, Tryjanowski P (2013) Factors affecting road mortality and the suitability of road verges for butterflies. Biol Conserv 159:148–157

  • Stamps JA, Krishnan VV, Reid ML (2005) Search costs and habitat selection by dispersers. Ecology 86:510–518

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steffan-Dewenter I, Tscharntke T (2000) Butterfly community structure in fragmented habitats. Ecol Lett 3:449–456

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stevens VM, Trochet A, Van Dyck H, Clobert J, Baguette M (2012) How is dispersal integrated in life histories: a quantitative analysis using butterflies. Ecol Lett 15:74–86

  • Stevens VM, Trochet A, Blanchet S, Moulherat S, Clobert J, Baguette M (2013) Dispersal syndromes and the use of life-histories to predict dispersal. Evol Appl 6:630–642

  • Theobald EJ, Ettinger AK, Burgess HK, DeBey LB, Schmidt NR, Froehlich HE, Wagner C, HilleRisLambers J, Tewksbury J, Harsch MA, Parrish JK (2015) Global change and local solutions: tapping the unrealized potential of citizen science for biodiversity research. Biol Conserv 181:236–244

  • Thomas JA, Bourn NAD, Clarke RT, Stewart KE, Simcox DJ, Pearman GS, Curtis R, Goodger B (2001) The quality and isolation of habitat patches both determine where butterflies persist in fragmented landscapes. Proceedings 268:1791–1796

  • Turlure C, Schtickzelle N, Baguette M (2010) Resource grain scales mobility and adult morphology in butterflies. Landscape Ecol 25:95–108

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Swaay C, Van Strien A, Harpke A, Fontaine B, Stefanescu C, Roy D, Kühn E, Õnuao E, Regan E, Švitra G, Prokofev I, Heliölä J, Settele J, Pettersson L, Botham M, Musche M, Titeux N, Cornish N, Leopold P, Juillard R, Verovnik R, Öberg S, Popov S, Collins S, Goloschchapova S, Roth T, Brereton T, Warren M (2013) The european grassland butterfly indicator 1990–2011. European Environment Agency

  • Wagner K, Krauss J, Steffan-Dewenter I (2013) Butterfly diversity and historical land cover change along an altitudinal gradient. J Insect Conserv 17:1039–1046

  • Watson JEM, Whittaker RJ, Freudenberger D (2005) Bird community responses to habitat fragmentation: how consistent are they across landscapes. J Biogeogr 32:1353–1370

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams MR (2011) Habitat resources, remnant vegetation condition and area determine distribution patterns and abundance of butterflies and day-flying moths in a fragmented urban landscape, south-west Western Australia. J Insect Conserv 15:37–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams RL, Stafford R, Goodenough AE (2015) Biodiversity in urban gardens: assessing the accuracy of citizen science data on garden hedgehogs. Urban Ecosyst 18(3):819–833

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wood BC, Pullin AS (2002) Persistence of species in a fragmented urban landscape: the importance of dispersal ability and habitat availability for grassland butterflies. Biodivers Conserv 11:1451–1468

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank all the volunteers who spend time recording insects in their gardens and uploading their observation data. We also thank Noe Conservation, which support and feedback the volunteer network and without whom this work would not have been possible. RS is acknowledging support from the FRB and EDF SA (FRB-CESAB project LOLA-BMS). Finally many thanks to Christie Le Coeur and Karine Princé for their support and help. This study was supported by the LEVANA project funded by the French Ministry of Environment (Program DIVA 3, Contract 12-MBGD-DIVA-5-CVS-030).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Théophile Olivier.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 48 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Olivier, T., Schmucki, R., Fontaine, B. et al. Butterfly assemblages in residential gardens are driven by species’ habitat preference and mobility. Landscape Ecol 31, 865–876 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Lepidoptera
  • Landscape
  • Connectivity
  • Dispersal
  • Habitat quality
  • Land-use
  • Citizen science
  • Species traits
  • Urbanization