Reproductive asynchrony in natural butterfly populations and its consequences for female matelessness


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  • 1Reproductive asynchrony, where individuals in a population are short-lived relative to the population-level reproductive period, has been identified recently as a theoretical mechanism of the Allee effect that could operate in diverse plant and insect species. The degree to which this effect impinges on the growth potential of natural populations is not yet well understood.
  • 2Building on previous models of reproductive timing, we develop a general framework that allows a detailed, quantitative examination of the reproductive potential lost to asynchrony in small natural populations.
  • 3Our framework includes a range of biologically plausible submodels that allow details of mating biology of different species to be incorporated into the basic reproductive timing model.
  • 4We tailor the parameter estimation methods of the full model (basic model plus mating biology submodels) to take full advantage of data from detailed field studies of two species of Parnassius butterflies whose mating status may be assessed easily in the field.
  • 5We demonstrate that for both species, a substantial portion of the female population (6·5–18·6%) is expected to die unmated. These analyses provide the first direct, quantitative evidence of female reproductive failure due to asynchrony in small natural populations, and suggest that reproductive asynchrony exerts a strong and largely unappreciated influence on the population dynamics of these butterflies and other species with similarly asynchronous reproductive phenology.