Butterfly richness and abundance along a gradient of imperviousness and the importance of matrix quality

J. S. Kurylo*, C. G. Threlfall, K. M. Parris, A. Ossola, N. S. G. Williams, K. L. Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

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    27 Citations (Scopus)
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    Heterogeneity in quantity and quality of resources provided in the urban matrix may mitigate adverse effects of urbanization intensity on the structure of biotic communities. To assess this we quantified the spatial variation in butterfly richness and abundance along an impervious surface gradient using three measures of urban matrix quality: floral resource availability and origin (native vs. exotic plants), tree cover, and the occurrence of remnant habitat patches. Butterfly richness and abundance were surveyed in 100 cells (500 × 500 m), selected using a random-stratified sampling design, across a continuous gradient of imperviousness in Melbourne, Australia. Sampling occurred twice during the butterfly flight season. Occurrence data were analyzed using generalized linear models at local and mesoscales. Despite high sampling completeness, we did not detect 75% of species from the regional species pool in the urban area, suggesting that urbanization has caused a large proportion of the region's butterflies to become absent or extremely rare within Melbourne's metro-area. Those species that do remain are largely very generalist in their choice of larval host plants. Butterfly species richness and abundance declined with increasing impervious surface cover and, contrary to evidence for other taxa, there was no evidence that richness peaked at intermediate levels of urbanization. Declines in abundance appeared to be more noticeable when impervious surface cover exceeded 25%, while richness declined linearly with increasing impervious surface cover. We find evidence that the quality of the urban matrix (floral resources and remnant vegetation) influenced butterfly richness and abundance although the effects were small. Total butterfly abundance responded negatively to exotic floral abundance early in the sampling season and positively to total floral abundance later in the sampling season. Butterfly species richness increased with tree cover. Negative impacts of increased urbanization intensity on butterfly species richness and abundance may be mitigated to some extent by improving the quality of the urban matrix by enhancing tree cover and the provision of floral resources, with some evidence that native plants are more effective.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere02144
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalEcological Applications
    Issue number7
    Early online date27 Apr 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Kurylo, J. S., Threlfall, C. G., Parris, K. M., Ossola, A., Williams, N. S. G., and Evans, K. L.. 2020. Butterfly richness and abundance along a gradient of imperviousness and the importance of matrix quality. Ecological Applications 30( 7):e02144. 10.1002/eap.2144

    © 2020 by the Ecological Society of America. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • conservation
    • habitat management
    • habitat quality
    • insects
    • Lepidoptera
    • local extinction
    • nonnative plants
    • urban woodland


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