The effects of habitat fragmentation on niche requirements of the marsh fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia, (Rottemburg, 1775) on calcareous grasslands in southern UK

Botham M. S.
Ash D.
Aspey N.
Bourn N. a. D.
Bulman C. R.
Roy D. B.
Swain J.
Zannese A.
Pywell Richard F.

<p>The marsh fritillary, <em>Euphydryas aurinia</em>, has declined greatly in distribution across its range within Europe, resulting in its designation as a protected species under Annex II of the 1979 Bern Convention and the EC Habitats and Species Directive. The decline has been linked to a marked reduction in the extent of suitable calcareous and wet grassland habitats, habitats which have been lost through conversion of land to agriculture or urban areas, or reduced in quality due to inappropriate management. The UK is now one of the major strongholds for this butterfly in Europe, although much of the remaining habitat is small, isolated and highly fragmented. <em>E. aurinia</em> populations fluctuate greatly due to the combined effects of biotic (e.g. parasitoids) and abiotic (e.g. climate change) factors. We quantified the habitat associations of larval webs of <em>E. aurinia</em> on fragmented versus extensive (unfragmented) calcareous grassland habitat in southern England to test the hypothesis that habitat requirements of <em>E. aurinia</em> are more constrained within fragmented landscapes. Within both fragmented and unfragmented landscapes the quality and quantity of its main host plant in the UK, <em>Succisa pratensis</em>, was positively related to numbers of <em>E. aurinia</em> larval webs found. The sward height was also important at predicting the distribution of larval webs in both landscapes, although the heights were greater within sites in the unfragmented (≈20 cm) compared to fragmented (≈15 cm) landscape. We also found significant effects of elevation and the cover of bare ground on numbers of larval webs. Elevation was strongly correlated with the availability of host plant, whilst bare ground was only significant on sites within the fragmented landscape, showing a negative relationship with number of larval webs. Our results further emphasise the importance of not only maintaining the habitat quality of extant calcareous grassland sites for <em>E. aurinia</em> in the UK, but also increasing the size and connectivity of these sites to increase the chances and rate of (re)colonisation of unoccupied but suitable habitat. In addition, we show that the habitat requirements of <em>E. aurinia</em> on sites in a large unfragmented landscape may be less specific and thus require less extensive management than that required to create optimal conditions necessary at smaller, more isolated sites in fragmented landscapes.</p>

Year of Publication
Journal of Insect Conservation
Number of Pages
Date Published
ISBN Number
1366-638X, 1572-9753
Short Title
J Insect Conserv
Download citation