Key traits in a threatened butterfly and its common sibling: implications for conservation
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We ask here which traits predispose one species to extreme rarity and possible extinction while a sympatric sibling is geographically widespread. With background knowledge on the level of habitat specialization of the two species, the population structure and movement of the localized and threatened Orachrysops ariadne were compared to those of the common and highly sympatric O. subravus, using mark-release-recapture. Of a total of 290 marked O. ariadne individuals 42.8% were recaptured, while of 631 O. subravus individuals 49.3% were recaptured. The Jolly-Seber model was used to estimate daily population numbers (Ni), survival rates (Øi), recruitment rates (Bi), proportion of marked animals in the total population (∞i), and the number of marked animals at risk (Mi). O. ariadne is a remarkably rare animal, averaging only 10 individuals ha-1 within its small, remaining colonies. Average residence times of male adults were generally similar in both species, being just over 5 days. O. ariadne is a strong and rapid back and forth flier, covering mean recapture distances of 157 m, almost twice that of O. subravus, principally in search of scarce nectar sources. In short, the rarity of O. ariadne is not so much to do with behaviour, survivorship or longevity, but rather with limited availability of the specialized habitat patches for both larvae and adults, and, in particular, the extreme scarcity of the host plant. Evidence suggests that there has been very high selection pressure on the key trait of strong flight as a compensation for going down the apparently highly risky path of extreme microhabitat specialization. Of concern for conservation of this rare species is that these rare habitat patches have become increasingly isolated through transformation of the surrounding landscape. Reduction of the barrier effects of agroforestry through creation of linkages between colonies is recommended, especially as O. ariadne is such a strong flier. Such corridors are indeed now being implemented.
- RESEARCH: Samways M