Metapopulation dynamics lead to predictable patterns of habitat occupancy, population density and trophic structure in relation to landscape features such as habitat patch size and isolation. Comparable patterns may occur in behavioural, physiological and life-history traits but remain little studied. In the Glanville fritillary butterfly, females in newly established populations were more mobile than females in old populations. Among females from new populations, mobility decreased with increasing connectivity (decreasing isolation), but in females from old populations mobility increased with connectivity. The [ATP]/[ADP] ratio of flight muscles following controlled activity showed the same pattern as mobility in relation to population age and connectivity, suggesting that physiological differences in flight metabolic performance contribute to the observed variation in mobility. We demonstrate with an evolutionary metapopulation model parameterised for the Glanville fritillary that increasing spatial variation in landscape structure increases variance in mobility among individuals in a metapopulation, supporting the general notion that complex landscape structure maintains life-history variation.