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Contrasting roles of environmental and spatial processes for common and rare urban butterfly species compositions

Abstract

Context

Environmental processes and dispersal are primary determinants of metacommunity dynamics. The relative importance of these effects may vary between species of different abundance classes, given variation in life history traits. Under high disturbance conditions, rare species may be more easily eliminated from their optimal habitats and their distribution may therefore be more heavily dependent upon dispersal from nearby habitat patches than common species.

Objectives

We tested if metacommunity dynamics vary between abundance classes in a high disturbance environment.

Methods

Standardized butterfly sampling was conducted in the urban parks of Hong Kong. To estimate the strength of environmental processes, we measured an array of environmental variables for all sampled parks. Spatial predictors were generated to estimate the effect of dispersal.

Results

For shaping common species compositions, we found environmental processes (and specifically environmental variables including floral density and surrounding woody plant cover) slightly more important than spatial processes. For rare species, only spatial processes were significant while environmental processes were insignificant. Our result contrasts previous studies in natural metacommunities, which have shown that both common and rare species compositions are shaped by environmental processes and similar variables.

Conclusions

Our results demonstrate that high disturbance conditions may inhibit rare species establishment and persistence in urban landscapes. Local habitat management may not be sufficient in conserving rare species in urban environments—spatial context and configuration should be considered in planning for biodiversity. We also highlight the utility of community deconstruction analysis in providing insights into rare species metacommunity dynamics.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Leisure and Cultural Services Department for permission to conduct fieldwork in the urban parks mentioned and Maria Lo for technical assistance. Two anonymous referees provided constructive criticisms to improve the manuscript. Everyone in the Global Change and Tropical Conservation Lab provided helpful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript. This work was generously supported by the University of Hong Kong.

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Correspondence to Timothy C. Bonebrake.

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Tsang, T.P.N., Bonebrake, T.C. Contrasting roles of environmental and spatial processes for common and rare urban butterfly species compositions. Landscape Ecol 32, 47–57 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0427-1

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Keywords

  • Common
  • Rare
  • Metacommunity
  • Dispersal
  • Environmental process
  • Urban
  • Disturbance
  • Butterfly