Population differentiation and conservation of endemic races: The butterfly, Plebejus argus
Thomas CD., Glen SWT., Lewis OT., Hill JK., Blakeley DS.
Five races of the Eurasian silver-studded blue butterfly, Plebejus argus, are restricted to different habitats in north Wales and north-west England. One of these races is extinct, and others are threatened. The four extant forms differ in morphology, habitat, host plant choice, performance on different host plant species and species of associated ant. Some of these differences are maintained in captivity, suggesting evolutionary divergence. Different races with different habitat requirements require different practical conservation management to maintain existing populations and metapopulations. Between-population, or racial, variation is an important consideration in the development of conservation programmes for this and other threatened species. Racial differentiation in P. argus suggests relatively long periods of isolation in particular habitats; the same areas contain other rare species and races. Many countries support the principle of conserving genetic variation within species, but practical methods do not exist for recognizing key areas to prioritize. We suggest that the existence of local races of well-known taxa may be used to indicate biodiversity hotspots, at a taxonomic level below that of full species. These may represent key locations for the conservation of genetic biodiversity.