Fruit-feeding butterflies in edge-dominated habitats: community structure, species persistence and cascade effect
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As old-growth forests are converted into edge-affected habitats, a substantial proportion of tropical biodiversity is potentially threatened. Here, we examine a comprehensive set of community-level attributes of fruit-feeding butterfly assemblages inhabiting edge-affected habitats in a fragmented Atlantic forest landscape devoted to sugar cane production. We also explored whether the consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation can interact and cause cascading ecosystem changes, with the pervasive simplification of tree assemblages inhabiting edge-dominated habitats, altering fruit-feeding butterfly persistence. Butterflies were sampled in three forest habitats: small fragments, forest edges and patches of forest interior of a primary forest fragment. Assemblage attributes, including taxonomic composition, correlated to some patch (patch size) and landscape (such as forest cover) metrics as well as habitat structure (tree density and richness). Fruit-feeding butterfly assemblages in the forest interior differed from those in small fragments due to an increased abundance of edge-specialist species. On the other hand, several forest-dependent species were missing in both small fragments and forest edges. Our results suggest that edge-affected habitats dominated by pioneer tree species support taxonomically distinct assemblages, including the presence of disturbance-adapted species, and butterfly community structure is highly sensitive to fragmentation- and plant-related variables, such as forest cover and pioneer tree species. In this way, while the establishment of human-modified landscapes probably results in the local extirpation of forest-dependent species, it allows the persistence of disturbance-adapted species. Thus, forest-dependent species conservation and the plant–animal interaction webs they support could be improved by retaining a significant amount of core forest habitat.
KeywordsButterflies Edge-affected habitats Fragmentation Nymphalidae Pioneer trees
We thank Luis Antônio Bezerra and José Clodoaldo Bakker for authorizing our fieldwork at Usina Serra Grande and Conservação Internacional do Brasil (CI Brasil) for providing aerial photographs of Usina Serra Grande. We are also grateful to ‘Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior’ (CAPES) for financial support (PNPD process 02488/09-4) and to ‘Conservação Internacional do Brasil’, ‘Centro de Estudos Ambientais do Nordeste’ (CEPAN) and ‘Usina Serra Grande’ for infrastructure and logistic support during fieldwork. IRL and MT thank the ‘Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico’ (CNPq) for research Grants (Grants 302574/2010-7 and 304598/2011-9). BKCF and DHAM acknowledge ‘Programa de Pós Graduação em Biologia Animal’ (PPGBA-UFPE), and DHAM is grateful for post-graduate fellowships from Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco (FACEPE). AVLF thanks ICMBio for the research permits (SISBIO #10802-5), CNPq for research Grants (process #302585/2011-7, 303834/2015-3 and SISBIOTA-Brasil/CNPq #563332/2010-7), FAPESP (BIOTA-FAPESP Program, Grants #2011/50225-3 and #2013/50297-0) and the National Science Foundation (DEB-1256742).
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