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Keywords:

  • adult flight period;
  • habitat quality indicator;
  • in situ habitat use;
  • larval distribution;
  • Taylor's checkerspot butterfly;
  • thermal thresholds

Abstract

We may expect butterflies as ectotherms to have particularly active life-history stages that occur in the warmest and lightest times of the year; however, there are temperate species that are active when climatic conditions seem unfavourable and photoperiod short, such as the Taylor's checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori). For such species, studies suggest that even subtle changes to microclimate can potentially impact populations. Thus, understanding how in situ variations in microclimate influence the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly could provide much needed insights into more effective management. We conducted a series of surveys that explored (i) adult habitat use, (ii) final instar larval distribution and (iii) adult movement up to and across site boundaries at two sites in Oregon, USA, in 2010 and 2011. We found that in situ habitat use by the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly was strongly influenced by microclimate. Both adult activities and final instar larvae distribution were clustered within the warmest areas of the sites. Moreover, adults did not use up to 59% and larva up to 90% of their sites, despite vegetation structure and composition being uniform. More specifically, butterfly habitat use increased with increasing ground temperatures, and we found that areas with the highest ground temperatures were more exposed to direct sunlight. Similarly, we found that butterflies tended to only move through sunlit site boundaries. We conclude that the Taylor's checkerspot is sensitive to changes in its thermal environment at fine spatial scales. Our results highlight the importance of microclimate as an indicator of habitat quality, and establishing the thermal criteria in which species of concern exists may provide valuable insights into the implications of climate change.