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Determinants of distribution and abundance in the clouded apollo butterfly: a landscape ecological approach

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Recent studies on the determinants of distribution and abundance of animals at landscape level have emphasized the usefulness of the metapopulation approach, in which patch area and habitat connectivity have often proved to explain satisfactorily existing patch occupancy patterns. A different approach is needed to study the common situation in which suitable habitat is difficult to determine or does not occur in well-defined habitat patches. We applied a landscape ecological approach to study the determinants of distribution and abundance of the threatened clouded apollo Parnassius mnemosyne butterfly within an area of 6 km2 of agricultural landscape in south-western Finland. The relative role of 24 environmental variables potentially affecting the distribution and abundance of the butterfly was studied using a spatial grid system with 2408 grid squares of 0.25 ha, of which 349 were occupied by the clouded apollo. Both the probability of butterfly presence and abundance in a 0.25 ha square increased with the presence of the larval host plant Corydalis solida, the cover of semi-natural grassland, the amount of solar radiation and spatial autocorrelation in butterfly occurrence. Additionally, butterfly abundance increased with overall mean patch size and decreased with maximum slope angle and wind speed. Two advantages of the employment of a spatial grid system included the avoidance of a subjective definition of suitable habitat patches and an evaluation of the relative significance of different components of habitat quality at the same time with habitat availability and connectivity. The large variation in habitat quality was influenced by the abundance of the larval host plant and adult nectar sources but also by climatological, topographical and structural factors. The application of a spatial grid system as used here has potential for a wide use in studies on landscape-level distribution and abundance patterns in species with complex habitat requirements and habitat availability patterns.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2001

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