When is a habitat not a habitat? Dramatic resource use changes under differing weather conditions for the butterfly Plebejus argus

Dennis, Roger L.H.; Sparks, Tim H.. 2006 When is a habitat not a habitat? Dramatic resource use changes under differing weather conditions for the butterfly Plebejus argus. Biological Conservation, 129. 291-301.

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A key to conserving organisms is identification of the habitat bounds and essential resources within them. In population studies (metapopulations) of phytophagous arthropods it is tacitly assumed that habitat bounds portray short-term stability and that habitat is largely synonymous with hostplant areas or with a single vegetation unit comprising hostplants; structural components are usually ignored. We test these assumptions by monitoring the behaviour and relative abundance of Plebejus argus (L.) (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) in relation to changing weather conditions in two patches of a North Wales metapopulation for the butterfly. Our findings confirm the importance of structural habitat components. P. argus density is higher in the vicinity of shrubs which are used for roosting, resting, basking, mate location and shelter. A dominant proportion of the population adopts shrub areas in cooler, cloudy and windy weather. In warmer, sunnier and calmer conditions, the butterfly spends longer in flight and moves out onto calcareous heath dominated by hostplants. In doing so, an increasing, even dominant, proportion of the population occupies exposed slopes adjacent to and above shrub covered areas associated with the hostplant. In effect, the habitat bounds appear to change with conditions on scales of days and hours. What part of a landscape may be defined as a habitat, and what part of it may appear to be most important for an organism, depends on just when and where surveys are carried out. We argue that for correct delineation of habitats attention needs to be given to resource use in different conditions. In the face of enhanced global warming, a broad view should be taken of arthropod habitats that considers the resources required for varying conditions.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Other
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: _ Ecological Processes & Modelling
ISSN: 0006-3207
Format Availability: Electronic, Print
Additional Keywords: resources, habitat quality, movement, metapopulation, apparency
NORA Subject Terms: Botany
Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 27 Jun 2007 15:14 +0 (UTC)

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