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Dispersal behaviour of individuals in metapopulations of two British butterflies

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DatePublished - Dec 2001
Issue number3
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)416-424
Original languageEnglish


Dispersal patterns are important in metapopulation ecology because they affect the dynamics and survival of populations. However, because little empirical information exists on dispersal behaviour of individuals, theoretical models usually assume random dispersal. Recent empirical evidence, by contrast, suggests that the butterfly Maniola jurtina uses a non-random, systematic dispersal strategy, can detect and orient towards habitat from distances of 100-150 m, and prefers a familiar habitat patch over a non-familiar one ('homing behaviour'). The present study (1) investigated whether these results generalise to another butterfly species, Pyronia tithonus; and (2) examined the cause of the observed 'homing behaviour' in M. jurtina. P. tithonus used a similar non-random, systematic dispersal strategy to M. jurtina, had a similar perceptual range for habitat detection and preferred a familiar habitat patch over a non-familiar one. The 'homing behaviour' of M. jurtina was found to be context-dependent: individual If. jurtina translocated within habitat did not return towards their capture point, whereas individuals translocated similar distances out of habitat did return to their 'home' patch. We conclude that butterfly 'homing behaviour' is not based on an inherent preference for a familiar location, but that familiarity with an area facilitates the recognition of suitable habitat, towards which individuals orient if they find themselves in unsuitable habitat. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we suggest that frequent, short 'excursions' over habitat patch boundaries are evolutionarily advantageous to individuals, because increased familiarity with the surrounding environment is likely to increase the ability of a straying animal to return to its natural habitat, and to reduce the rate of mortality experienced by individuals attempting to disperse between habitat patches. We discuss the implications of the non-random dispersal for existing metapopulation models, including models of the evolution of dispersal rates.

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