The Effect of Habitat on Insect Movements: Experimental Evidence from Wild-Caught Butterflies

Insects. 2023 Aug 31;14(9):737. doi: 10.3390/insects14090737.


There is broad evidence that the main driver of the ongoing biodiversity crisis is land-use change, which reduces and fragments habitats. The consequence of habitat fragmentation on behavioural responses of fitness-related traits in insects have been so far understudied. In herbivorous insects, oviposition-related behaviours determine access to larval food, and the fate of the next generation. We present a pilot study to assess differences in behaviours related to movement and oviposition in Limenitis camilla butterflies from Wallonia (Belgium), one of the most fragmented regions in Europe. We first quantified variation in functional habitat connectivity across Wallonia and found that fragmented habitats had more abundant, but less evenly distributed host plants of L. camilla. Secondly, we quantified the behaviours of field-caught L. camilla females originating from habitats with contrasted landscape connectivity in an outdoor experimental setting. We found differences in behaviours related to flight investment: butterflies from fragmented woodlands spent more time in departing flight, which we associated with dispersal, than butterflies from homogenous woodlands. Although results from this study should be interpreted with caution given the limited sample size, they provide valuable insights for the advancement of behavioural research that aims to assess the effects of global changes on insects.

Keywords: Limenitis camilla; behavioural ecology; butterflies; habitat fragmentation; land-use changes; oviposition site selection.