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BMC Evol Biol. 2007 Jan 22;7:4.

Quantitative analysis of changes in movement behaviour within and outside habitat in a specialist butterfly.

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  • 1Biodiversity Research Centre, University of Louvain (UCL), 4 Place Croix du Sud, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.



Dispersal between habitat patches is a key process in the functioning of (meta)populations. As distance between suitable habitats increases, the ongoing process of habitat fragmentation is expected to generate strong selection pressures on movement behaviour. This leads to an increase or decrease of dispersal according to its cost relative to landscape structure. To limit the cost of dispersal in an increasingly hostile matrix, we predict that organisms would adopt special dispersal behaviour between habitats, which are different from movements associated with resource searching in suitable habitats.


Here we quantified the movement behaviour of the bog fritillary butterfly (Proclossiana eunomia) by (1) assessing perceptual range, the distance to which the habitat can be perceived, and (2) tracking and parameterizing movement behaviour within and outside habitat (parameters were move length and turning angles distributions). Results are three-fold. (1) Perceptual range was < 30 m. (2) Movements were significantly straighter in the matrix than within the habitat. (3) Correlated random walk adequately described movement behaviour for 70% of the observed movement paths within habitat and in the matrix.


The perceptual range being lower than the distance between habitat patches in the study area, P. eunomia likely perceives these habitat networks as fragmented, and must locate suitable habitats while dispersing across the landscape matrix. Such a constraint means that dispersal entails costs, and that selection pressure should favour behaviours that limit these costs. Indeed, our finding that dispersal movements in the matrix are straighter than resource searching movements within habitat supports the prediction of simulation studies that adopting straight movements for dispersal reduces its costs in fragmented landscapes. Our results support the mounting evidence that dispersal in fragmented landscapes evolved towards the use of specific movement behaviour, different from explorative searching movements within habitat.

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