Synchrony of butterfly populations across species' geographic ranges


G. D. Powney, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK. E-mail:


Understanding the mechanisms by which global climate change and habitat loss impact upon biodiversity is essential in order to mitigate any negative impacts. One such impact may be changes to population synchrony (defined as correlated fluctuations in the density of separate populations). It is well established that synchrony depends on both dispersal ability and correlated environmental conditions, for example shared climate. However, what is not clear is whether differences in habitat or position within a species' range also mediate synchrony. Since synchronous metapopulations are thought to be more extinction-prone, establishing the drivers of synchrony has clear conservation implications. Using three butterfly species (Maniola jurtina, Pyronia tithonus and Aphantopus hyperantus) we investigated the effects of habitat similarity and range position on population synchrony, after accounting for the effects of distance and climate. Range position was present in all minimum adequate models, though non-significant using Mantel randomization tests in one case. We show that M. jurtina and P. tithonus synchrony is not consistent across species' ranges, with marginal populations showing more synchronous dynamics. Increased climatic constraints on marginal populations, leading to a narrower range of suitable microhabitats may be responsible for this, which is supported by the result that habitat similarity between sites was also positively correlated with population synchrony. As the landscape becomes increasingly homogeneous, overall population synchrony may be expected to rise. We conclude that habitat modification and climate change have the capacity to drive changes in population synchrony that could make species more vulnerable to extinction.