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Marginal range expansion in a host-limited butterfly species Gonepteryx rhamni

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Publication details

JournalEcological entomology
DatePublished - May 2000
Issue number2
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)165-170
Original languageEnglish


1. The British distribution of the butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni (L.) follows closely the range of its natural host plants, Rhamnus catharticus L. and Frangula alnus Miller, suggesting that it is one of the few British butterflies that has a host-limited distribution. In North Wales, this species has its range margin, and it was recorded only occasionally in a 35-km(2) area prior to the 1980s. Frangula alnus bushes were planted in the area in about 1986, allowing the hypothesis that G. rhamni would expand its range following increased host plant availability to be tested.

2. From 1996 to 1998, the distribution of the butterfly and its host plants, R. catharticus (native), Rhamnus alaternus L. (introduced), and F. alnus (introduced to the area but native to Britain), was mapped in the study area. It was found that the butterfly was more widespread than any of its host plants. Frangula alnus was the most widespread of the host plants, and received most eggs, suggesting that the carrying capacity of the habitat would have increased substantially following the planting of this species. Gonepteryx rhamni was able to complete its lifecycle on both introduced species in the study area.

3. A mark-release-recapture study showed that adult G. rhamni moved an average of 512 m, and 50% of movements were further than 400 m; these values are underestimates. The relatively high mobility of this species suggests that it probably perceives host plants and nectar sources as resource patches (patchy population) in this fragmented landscape, and this population now represents a satellite population of the butterfly's main distribution in Britain.

4. The results presented here confirm empirically the host-limited distribution of G. rhamni, which expanded following the planting of extra host plants.

    Research areas

  • butterfly, climate change, geographical range, Gonepteryx rhamni, North Wales, range expansion, range margins, SIZE

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