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Am Nat. 2003 Jan;161(1):40-9. Epub 2002 Dec 11.

Does herbivore diversity depend on plant diversity? The case of California butterflies.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA.


It is widely believed that the diversity of plants influences the diversity of animals, and this should be particularly true of herbivores. We examine this supposition at a moderate spatial extent by comparing the richness patterns of the 217 butterfly species resident in California to those of plants, including all 5,902 vascular plant species and the 552 species known to be fed on by caterpillars. We also examine the relationships between plant/butterfly richness and 20 environmental variables. We found that although plant and butterfly diversities are positively correlated, multiple regression, path models, and spatial analysis indicate that once primary productivity (estimated by a water-energy variable, actual evapotranspiration) and topographical variability are incorporated into models, neither measure of plant richness has any relationship with butterfly richness. To examine whether butterflies with the most specialized diets follow the pattern found across all butterflies, we repeated the analyses for 37 species of strict monophages and their food plants and found that plant and butterfly richness were similarly weakly associated after incorporating the environmental variables. We condude that plant diversity does not directly influence butterfly diversity but that both are probably responding to similar environmental factors.

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