Ecological determinants of butterfly vulnerability across the European continent

Tijl Essens, Frank van Langevelde, Rutger A. Vos, Chris A.M. van Swaay, Michiel Wallis de Vries*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In drawing up Red Lists, the extinction risks of butterflies and other insects are currently assessed mainly by using information on trends in distribution and abundance. Incorporating information on species traits may increase our ability to predict species responses to environmental change and, hence, their vulnerability. We summarized ecologically relevant life-history and climatic niche traits in principal components, and used these to explain the variation in five vulnerability indicators (Red List status, Endemicity, Range size, Habitat specialisation index, Affinity for natural habitats) for 397 European butterfly species out of 482 species present in Europe. We also evaluated a selection of 238 species to test whether phylogenetic correction affected these relationships. For all but the affinity for natural habitats, climatic niche traits predicted more variation in vulnerability than life-history traits; phylogenetic correction had no relevant influence on the findings. The life-history trait component reflecting mobility, development rate, and overwintering stage, proved the major non-climatic determinant of species vulnerability. We propose that this trait component offers a preferable alternative to the frequently used, but ecologically confusing generalist-specialist continuum. Our analysis contributes to the development of trait-based approaches to prioritise vulnerable species for conservation at a European scale. Further regional scale analyses are recommended to improve our understanding of the biological basis of species vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-450
JournalJournal of Insect Conservation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Butterflies
  • Conservation
  • Life-history traits
  • Phylogeny
  • Red List
  • Vulnerability


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