Ecological dynamics of extinct species in empty habitat networks. 2. The role of host plant dynamics


  • Jorge L. León-Cortés,

  • Jack J. Lennon,

  • Chris D. Thomas

J. L. León-Cortés, J. J. Lennon and C. D. Thomas, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, Univ. of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT U.K.

Present address for JLL-C: Depto de Ecología y Sistemática Terrestre, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Carr. Panamericana y Periférico Sur S/N, San Cristóbal de las Casas, MX-29290 Chiapas, Mexico (

Present address for JJL: The Macaulay Institute Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, AB15 8QH, U.K.


This paper explores the relative effects of host plant dynamics and butterfly-related parameters on butterfly persistence. It considers an empty habitat network where a rare butterfly (Cupido minimus) became extinct in 1939 in part of its historical range in north Wales, UK. Surviving populations of the butterfly in southern Britain were visited to assess use of its host plant (Anthyllis vulneraria) in order to calibrate habitat suitability and carrying capacity in the empty network in north Wales. These data were used to deduce that only a portion (∼19%) of the host plant network from north Wales was likely to be highly suitable for oviposition. Nonetheless, roughly 65,460 eggs (3273 adult equivalents) could be expected to be laid in north Wales, were the empty network to be populated at the same levels as observed on comparable plants in surviving populations elsewhere. Simulated metapopulations of C. minimus in the empty network revealed that time to extinction and patch occupancy were significantly influenced by carrying capacity, butterfly mean dispersal distance and environmental stochasticity, although for most reasonable parameter values, the model system persisted. Simulation outputs differed greatly when host plant dynamics was incorporated into the modelled butterfly dynamics. Cupido minimus usually went extinct when host plant were at low densities. In these simulations host plant dynamics appeared to be the most important determinant of the butterfly's regional extirpation. Modelling the outcome of a reintroduction programme to C. minimus variation at high quality locations, revealed that 65% of systems survived at least 100 years. Given the current amount of resources of the north Wales landscape, the persistence of C. minimus under a realistic reintroduction programme has a good chance of being successful, if carried out in conjunction with a host plant management programme.