The relative exploitation of annuals as larval host plants by European butterflies
Theoretically, Lepidoptera should be able to adapt to using annuals as larval host plants through increased development rates and migration capacity. Even so, we show that annuals are used less frequently as host plants than expected among British and continental European butterflies. In particular, no example has been found of a European butterfly monophagous on an annual plant over its entire range. Use of annuals is proportionately greater among species that exploit increasing numbers of host plants and among subsidiary host plants than among primary (main) host plants. Annuals as host plants change status as habitat components with changes in species' spatial dynamics. The statistical findings point to perennials as providing host plant refuges, whereas the few case examples of site monophagy suggest that annuals can become valuable complementary resources during range extensions such as those currently associated with climatic warming. Annuals are more likely to be used in highly restricted circumstances, when environmental conditions allow the plants to persist over prolonged periods (i.e. when they are behaving like biennials) or when their spatial predictability is high because of low seed dispersal.
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Journal of Natural History
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