Determinants of spatial distribution in a population of the subalpine butterfly Oeneis chryxus

Research paper by Gretchen C. Daily, Paul R. Ehrlich, Darryl Wheye

Indexed on: 01 Dec '91Published on: 01 Dec '91Published in: Oecologia


This paper describes temporally varying determinants of the spatial distribution of adults in an insect population and the relationship between that distribution and the mating system. Male Oeneis chryxus butterflies were distributed nonrandomly throughout a sloping Colorado meadow divided horizontally by a dirt road into an upper and lower slope. Over an eight-year period of intensive study, the proportion of males located on the road, the upper slope, and the lower slope varied as a function of population size and sex ratio. In each year, more than half of the male population aggregated on sections of the road in a distinct and recurring pattern that was not correlated with the distribution of any food resource or thermal regime. Females were usually extremely scarce and not distributed in any pattern apparent from the few observations of them. Areas densely occupied by males were associated with visual landmarks. We hypothesize that the male distribution is determined by a pattern of movement of receptive females toward these landmarks. The road offers a thermally favorable environment with an unobstructed view in which to await the passage of scarce females. The mating system in this population has several lek-like features and supports the prediction that landmark mating is a favored strategy under conditions of female scarcity and wide dispersal of resources.