Eur. J. Entomol. 109 (1): 85-94, 2012 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2012.011

Parasitism and migration in southern Palaearctic populations of the painted lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)

Constantí STEFANESCU1,2, Richard R. ASKEW3, Jordi CORBERA4, Mark R. SHAW5
1 Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, Museu de Granollers-Ciències Naturals, Francesc MaciL, 51, Granollers, E-08402, Spain; e-mail: canliro@gmail.com
2 Global Ecology Unit, CREAF-CEAB-CSIC, Edifici C, Campus de Bellaterra, Bellaterra, E-08193, Spain
3 Beeston Hall Mews, Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9TZ, England, UK
4 Secció de Ciències Naturals, Museu de Mataró, El Carreró 17-19, Mataró, E-08301, Spain
5 Honorary Research Associate, National Museums of Scotland, Scotland, UK

The painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Nymphalinae) is well known for its seasonal long-distance migrations and for its dramatic population fluctuations between years. Although parasitism has occasionally been noted as an important mortality factor for this butterfly, no comprehensive study has quantified and compared its parasitoid complexes in different geographical areas or seasons. In 2009, a year when this butterfly was extraordinarily abundant in the western Palaearctic, we assessed the spatial and temporal variation in larval parasitism in central Morocco (late winter and autumn) and north-east Spain (spring and late summer). The primary parasitoids in the complexes comprised a few relatively specialized koinobionts that are a regular and important mortality factor in the host populations. However, there was a strong seasonal variation in the level of parasitism. In Spain percentage parasitism was more than four times higher in late summer than in spring (77.3% vs. 18%), while in Morocco it was five times higher by the end of winter than in the autumn (66.2% vs. 13.2%). In both regions the build up of parasitoid populations occurred after V. cardui had bred in the same general area over successive generations, and this may represent a selective force favouring seasonal migration to enemy-free space.

Keywords: Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, population dynamics, seasonal migration, enemy-free space, primary parasitoids, Cotesia vanessae, secondary parasitoids

Received: August 25, 2011; Accepted: October 10, 2011; Published: January 3, 2012

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