Butterfly diversity and human land use: Species assemblages along an urban gradient

Robert B. Blair, Alan E. Launer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

389 Scopus citations


We examined the distribution and abundance of butterfly species across an urban gradient and concomitant changes in community structure by censusing the butterfly and skipper populations at 48 points within six sites near Palo Alto, California, USA (all former oak woodlands). These sites represent a gradient of urban land use running from relatively undisturbed to highly developed and include a nature preserve, recreational area, golf course, residential neighborhood, office park and business district. The species richness and Shannon diversity of butterflies peaked at moderately disturbed sites while the relative abundance decreased from the natural to the urban areas. Butterfly species thought to be most representative of the original, predevelopment butterfly fauna progressively disappear as the sites become more urban. These patterns are significantly related to shifts in habitat structure that occur along the gradient as determined by canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) using the environmental variables of percent land covered by pavement, buildings, lawn, grasslands, and trees or shrubs. The mechanisms behind these patterns may be related to life history and resource use by the individual butterfly species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-125
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all of the people at the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University who helped us with this project: Alistair Hobday, Jeff Hodgson, and Russell Bell for field assistance; Paul Ehrlich and Dennis Murphy for guidance; Carol Boggs, Marc Feldman, Deborah Gordon, Art Shapiro and an anonymous reviewer for comments; Ward Wilson Woods Jr for financial support (RBB); and Erica Fleishman for editorial assistance.

Copyright 2004 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam. All rights reserved.


  • butterflies
  • conservation
  • gradient analysis
  • land use
  • oak woodland
  • species diversity
  • urbanization


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