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The role of niche breadth, resource availability and range position on the life history of butterflies

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We analysed the relationship between three life history characteristics (mobility, length of flight period and body size) and niche breadth (larval host plant specificity and adult habitat breadth), resource availability (distribution and abundance of host plants) and range position (distance between the northernmost distribution record and southernmost point of Finland) of the butterfly fauna of Finland. The data is based on literature and questionnaires. Often in across species studies phylogeny may create spurious relationships between life-history and ecological variables. We took the phylogenetic relatedness of butterfly species into account by analysing the data with phylogenetically independent contrasts (CAIC method). Butterfly mobility was positively related to the niche breadth, resource availability and range position. The length of the flight period was negatively related to the range position, indicating that the species at the northern edge of their distribution range have shorter flight period than species which are further way from the range edge. After controlling for the phylogenetic relatedness we found no significant correlations between body size and niche breadth, resource availability or range position. We suggest that the relationship between the length of the flight period and range position may arise as a consequence of lower hatching asynchrony in edge species as a result of lower environmental variance in larval growth conditions. Our results on the mobility suggest that there is selection pressure towards lower migration rate in species that have restricted niche breadth, low resource availability and in species that are on the northern edge of their geographical distribution range. In such species, selection against mobile individuals is likely to result from the decreased probability of finding another habitat patch suitable for egg laying.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2004

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