Environmental effects on gene flow in a species complex of vagile, hilltopping butterflies

Julian R. Dupuis, Catherine I. Cullingham, Scott E. Nielsen, Felix A.H. Sperling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Butterflies have played a pivotal role in our understanding of animal movement, but little is known about landscape-scale movement in highly vagile species with large ranges and open population structure. We investigate the effect of environment and landscape on both inter- and intraspecific genetic differentiation and population structure in the Papilio machaon group of swallowtail butterflies in Alberta, Canada. These butterflies exhibit strong hilltopping behaviour, where individuals congregate on topographical prominences to mate, and thus we expect topography to influence population connectivity. We use redundancy analysis to explore the relationship between two genetic datasets (mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites) and topographic, climatic and habitat-related environmental variables at multiple spatial scales. Shared variation across these environmental variables explained a large portion of both mitochondrial (≤ 75%) and microsatellite genetic variation (≤ 40%). Individual variables, such as elevation, terrain profile, solar radiation and precipitation, had moderate explanatory power; however, the water component of land cover had the greatest explanatory power of the individual variables and acted as a surrogate variable for the larval habitat of P. machaon. Despite high levels of retained ancestral polymorphism in the mitochondrial dataset, we found similar relationships between environmental characteristics and genetic variation. Finally, the spatial scale of our analyses greatly influenced our results, and without exploring the effect of scale we would have missed or discounted the effects of several environmental characteristics. This point emphasizes the importance of exploratory analysis in systems where there is little prior knowledge of movement dynamics and the influence of the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberblz043
Pages (from-to)417-428
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 22 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant to F.A.H.S., and an Alberta Conservation Association Grant in Biodiversity and a Canadian Circumpolar Institute, Circumpolar/Boreal Alberta ResearchGrant to J.R.D. Collecting in provincial parks in Alberta was done under permit #10-097, and all collections on private land were made with the owners’ permission. We thank Patrick James for help with conceptualizing this study and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Figures were created using R v.3.1.1 (R Core Team, 2018) and Inkscape v.0.91 (The Inkscape Team, 2017).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.


  • Papilio machaon
  • landscape genetics
  • population genetics
  • spatial ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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