Eur. J. Entomol. 110 (4): 643-648, 2013 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2013.087

Molehills as important larval habitats for the grizzled skipper, Pyrgus malvae (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae), in calcareous grasslands

Merle STREITBERGER, Thomas FARTMANN
Department of Community Ecology, Institute of Landscape Ecology, University of Münster, Robert-Koch-Straße 28, 48149 Münster, Germany; e-mails: m_stre05@uni-muenster.de; fartmann@uni-muenster.de

Small-scale soil disturbance, such as animal mounds created by subterraneous ecosystem engineers are important microhabitats for species of conservation concern. There are many studies on the effects of ecosystem engineers on plant species diversity and soil properties, but the influence of such organisms on other taxa, such as insects, are rarely analyzed. In this paper, we demonstrate for the first time the role of molehills produced by the European Mole (Talpa europaea) (Linnaeus, 1758) as a larval habitat for a threatened butterfly species within central European calcareous grasslands. We selected the grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae) (Linnaeus, 1758) as a study species as previous studies revealed that it prefers warm and open microhabitats for oviposition. Our study clearly showed that host plants occurring on or in the close vicinity of molehills were regularly occupied by immature stages of P. malvae. Occupied host plants at these disturbed sites were characterized by a more open vegetation structure with a higher proportion of bare ground or stones and a lower cover of the herb layer compared with available host plants (control samples). Among molehills those were preferred that had the highest cover of host plants, especially Agrimonia eupatoria. Molehills are important larval habitats for P. malvae in calcareous grasslands on deeper soils. At these sites succession occurs rapidly and the amount of bare ground is usually low, even when they are managed. In contrast to other known breeding sites in calcareous grasslands, molehills with a high cover of host plants provide ideal conditions for the successful larval development of P. malvae: (i) sufficient food during the larval period and (ii) warm microclimatic conditions.

Keywords: Lepidoptera, Hesperiidae, Pyrgus malvae, butterfly, disturbance, ecosystem engineer, molehill, Agrimonia eupatoria, habitat requirement, larval ecology, microclimate, oviposition site selection, calcareous grassland, vegetation structure

Received: March 5, 2013; Accepted: May 2, 2013; Prepublished online: October 1, 2013; Published: December 1, 2013

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