pp 1–14 | Cite as

Resource availability drives trait composition of butterfly assemblages

  • Chensheng Zhang
  • Josef Settele
  • Wenhao Sun
  • Martin Wiemers
  • Yalin ZhangEmail author
  • Oliver Schweiger
Community ecology – original research


How species respond to environmental change is a fundamental question in ecology and species traits can help to tackle this question. In this study, we analyze how the functional structure of species assemblages changes with selected environmental variables along an elevational gradient. In particular, we used species traits of local butterfly communities (body size, voltinism, overwintering stages, and host specificity) in a national nature reserve in China to assess the impacts of temperature, net primary productivity, and land use. Our results show that productivity, measured as NDVI, had a stronger influence on the functional community structure of butterflies than temperature. Within the butterfly assemblages, net primary productivity mainly affected body size and supported few but large species. Length of vegetation period demonstrated dominating effects on the functional structure of local butterfly assemblages. However, an observed increase in dietary generalists with longer vegetation periods contradicted expectations based on niche breadth hypothesis, that more stable conditions should favor specialists. Furthermore, the general positive impact of vegetation period on species abundances differed considerably among functional groups. Only the group containing species hibernating as egg decreased with the length of vegetation period. Our results suggest that trait associations are instructive to explain environment–herbivore relationships, that resource availability can predominantly influence the functional composition of herbivore assemblages, and that conservation priority should be given to specialist butterfly species overwintering as egg, especially in the face of global warming.


Alpine insects China Environmental drivers Functional diversity GLMs 



CZ thanks YZ and JS who provided supervision for CZ’s Ph.D. study. We acknowledge Foping National Nature Reserve for support and convenience for the field work. CZ appreciates the support from his parents carrying the burden of CZ’s university fees.

Author contribution statement

CZ, YZ, JS, OS, and MW conceived ideas. CZ collected and analyzed the data. CZ and WS identified butterflies. WS provided parts of trait records. The manuscript was written by CS and was commented by all authors.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human rights and animal participants

No experiments with animals were conducted for this study.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4454_MOESM1_ESM.docx (399 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 398 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chensheng Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Josef Settele
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Wenhao Sun
    • 5
  • Martin Wiemers
    • 2
  • Yalin Zhang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Oliver Schweiger
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Plant Protection Resources and Pest Management, Ministry of Education, Entomological MuseumNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Community EcologyUFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchHalleGermany
  3. 3.iDiv, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and SciencesUniversity of the PhilippinesLos BanosPhilippines
  5. 5.College of Water Resources and Architectural EngineeringNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingPeople’s Republic of China

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