Host-plant patch qualities and presence of a likely competitor species affect the distribution and abundance of a rare British moth, Cucullia lychnitis
Macgregor CJ., Hoare DJ., Parsons MS., Lewis OT.
© 2017, The Author(s). Understanding the environmental factors that affect the distribution and abundance of rare and threatened species can help identify priority sites for conservation action such as habitat management. The moth Cucullia lychnitis is identified in UK legislation as a priority species for conservation. Its conspicuous larvae feed on a patchily distributed host plant Verbascum nigrum, but are entirely absent from some host plant patches within the species’ range. Environmental variability among patches was investigated to understand factors affecting (i) patch occupancy by C. lychnitis and (ii) abundance of C. lychnitis, where present. Occupancy of individual V. nigrum plants within occupied patches was also investigated. The likelihood of patch occupancy increased with patch size, and decreased with patch isolation. Abundance of C. lychnitis was negatively correlated with patch isolation and with abundance of the weevil Cionus nigritarsis, which exploits the same host plant and may be a competitor. Within occupied patches, larvae of C. lychnitis were significantly more likely to be found on taller plants with more flower spikes; such plants are typical of established rather than newly-created patches. These results may help to guide efforts to conserve C. lychnitis, highlighting the importance of habitat connectivity and indicating potential management actions to promote features positively associated with larval incidence and abundance.