Species Traits Help Explain Butterfly Habitat Use in a Tropical Forest

Ravi Jambhekar,  Don A. Driscoll | 2022 


  1. When species can access all parts of the landscape, species-sorting metacommunity theory predicts that community composition depends on habitat choice and inter- actions with other species and the environment. These filtering processes can also depend on species’ traits.
  2. The authors investigated how traits mediate a species-sorting process in determin- ing butterfly community composition in a naturally patchy landscape in the tropical Western Ghats, India. The authors asked, do traits mediate access to certain habi- tats and does seasonality affect these patterns? The authors surveyed 56 habitat patches in three habitat types: laterite plateau grasslands, ridge grassland, and moist-deciduous forest, in a 65-km2 landscape.
  3. Non-palatable butterflies showed similar occurrences across seasons and habitats, but palatable butterflies were less commonly encountered in open habitats in the dry season. Polyphagous butterflies occurred infrequently in the dry season in later- ite habitats, potentially indicating emigration or diapause patterns are linked to diet breadth.
  4. All species were present in all habitats, implying dispersal does not limit access to different habitat patches, consistent with the species-sorting metacommunity con- cept. Nevertheless, butterfly occurrence was strongly influenced by the interaction of mobility and habitat type with sedentary species occurring less often in low-resource open laterite patches than mobile species.
  5. Species sorting is typically regarded as occurring directly through environmental fil-ters, but here the authors suggest that the environmental filter acts through move-ment limitations. Studies integrating landscape heterogeneity and species characteristics will help us better understand metacommunities and species distri-butions in nature.