All natural habitat edges matter equally for endangered Maculinea butterflies
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An obvious consequence of habitat fragmentation is an increasing role of habitat edges for species survival. Recently it has been suggested that the endangered butterfly Maculinea nausithous prefers forested edges of its meadow habitats. However, the prevalence of forests in the study area used for this analysis makes it impossible to distinguish whether the effect detected is a genuine preference for forest edges or a preference for any natural patch edges as opposed to patch interiors. We investigated habitat selection by Maculinea nausithous and Maculinea teleius occurring sympatrically at five habitat patches surrounded by mosaic landscape. Butterfly capture positions were marked with GPS and subsequently analysed with GIS software. Both species avoided the interiors of their patches and concentrated in the edge zone, but these preferences were visible only at three larger patches exceeding 1 ha in area. Among different types of edges those bordering densely built-up areas were avoided, whereas all natural edges (adjacent to forests, reeds or grasslands) were similarly used. We hypothesise that preferences towards natural patch edges, regardless of their type, can be explained by the spatial interactions between Maculinea butterflies and Myrmica ants they parasitise. Patch surroundings constitute refuge space for the ants, and hence their densities may be expected to be higher near patch edges. Our findings indicate the importance of patch surroundings for the persistence of Maculinea populations. Regretfully, current legal framework makes it difficult to protect patch surroundings, where neither priority species nor their habitats occur.
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