Characterizing urban butterfly populations: the case for purposive point-count surveys

Widrlechner, Mark
Klaver, Robert
Dixon, Philip
Lang, Bret
Dixon, Philip
Klaver, Robert
Thompson, Janette
Widrlechner, Mark
Thompson, Janette
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Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementStatisticsEcology, Evolution and Organismal BiologyHorticulture

Developing effective butterfly monitoring strategies is key to understanding how butterflies interact with urban environments, and, in turn, to developing local conservation practices. We investigated two urban habitat types (public gardens and restored/reconstructed prairies) and compared three survey methods (Pollard transects, purposive point counts, and random point counts) to determine which was most productive for detecting butterflies and assessing family diversity. We conducted 66 butterfly surveys by using each method (198 total) from May through September in 2015 and 2016 at six sites (three public gardens and three prairies) in Ames, Ankeny and Des Moines, Iowa. All survey methods were used on 11 sampling dates at each site. Overall, we observed 2,227 butterflies representing 38 species: 1,076 in public gardens and 1,151 in prairie areas. We used a smaller data set standardized for survey effort, including 1,361 of these sightings, to compare survey methods and habitat types. Although there were no significant differences in number of butterfly sightings between the two habitats, more sightings (798) were documented by using purposive point counts when compared to Pollard transects (297) or random point counts (266) (for both comparisons, p < 0.0001). Occupancy modeling also indicated that purposive point counts were most effective in detecting certain species of butterflies, most notably those within the Pieridae (whites, sulphurs) and Papilionidae (swallowtails). We conclude that public gardens and restored/reconstructed prairies in urban settings can provide important butterfly habitat, and that purposive point-count surveys are most effective for detecting butterflies in these relatively small-scale landscape features.


This article is published as Lang, Bret J., Philip M. Dixon, Robert W. Klaver, Jan R. Thompson, and Mark P. Widrlechner. "Characterizing urban butterfly populations: the case for purposive point-count surveys." Urban Ecosystems (2019). doi: 10.1007/s11252-019-00880-8.