Life history of the Glanville fritillary butterfly in fragmented versus continuous landscapes



Habitat loss and fragmentation threaten the long-term viability of innumerable species of plants and animals. At the same time, habitat fragmentation may impose strong natural selection and lead to evolution of life histories with possible consequences for demographic dynamics. The Baltic populations of the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) inhabit regions with highly fragmented habitat (networks of small dry meadows) as well as regions with extensive continuous habitat (calcareous alvar grasslands). Here, we report the results of common garden studies on butterflies originating from two highly fragmented landscapes (FL) in Finland and Sweden and from two continuous landscapes (CL) in Sweden and Estonia, conducted in a large outdoor cage (32 by 26 m) and in the laboratory. We investigated a comprehensive set of 51 life-history traits, including measures of larval growth and development, flight performance, and adult reproductive behavior. Seventeen of the 51 traits showed a significant difference between fragmented versus CL. Most notably, the growth rate of postdiapause larvae and several measures of flight capacity, including flight metabolic rate, were higher in butterflies from fragmented than CL. Females from CL had shorter intervals between consecutive egg clutches and somewhat higher life-time egg production, but shorter longevity, than females from FL. These results are likely to reflect the constant opportunities for oviposition in females living in continuous habitats, while the more dispersive females from FL allocate more resources to dispersal capacity at the cost of egg maturation rate. This study supports theoretical predictions about small population sizes and high rate of population turnover in fragmented habitats selecting for increased rate of dispersal, but the results also indicate that many other life-history traits apart from dispersal are affected by the degree of habitat fragmentation.