Effects of latitude, altitude and climate on the habitat and conservation of the endangered butterfly Maculinea arion and its Myrmica ant hosts

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Abstract

Analyses were made of the habitats of the endangered myrmecophilous butterfly, Maculinea arion, and its host ant, Myrmica sabuleti, in five regions, spanning most of the climatic range of the butterfly in west Europe. Near their altitudinal or north latitudinal limits, both species are confined to warm south-facing slopes where the turf is grazed <3 cm tall, but at low altitudes further south, where the summer climate is 4°C warmer, the butterfly and ant inhabit ground with any aspect other than south-facing, and the butterfly is restricted to swards >20 cm tall. Intermediate types of habitat were used in regions with intermediate summer climates. The implications for conservation management are discussed. The fact that M. arion has a narrow niche and occupies very early successional stages near its range-edge makes it difficult to conserve in regions with cool climates. A successful example is described from one site in the UK. During 20 years of intensive management the sward structure was altered from being tall and dense to that predicted as optimal for M. arion at its range-edge. The species of Myrmica changed greatly during this period, with thermophilous ants, including M. sabuleti, supplanting cool-loving non-host species. A population of M. arion now inhabits this site. We predict that the conservation of M. arion will be easier and cheaper to achieve under the warm climates of central lowland Europe where different, less intensive, management is required.

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