Butterfly edge effects are predicted by a simple model in a complex landscape

Leslie Ries, Thomas D. Sisk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Edge responses have been studied for decades and form a critical component of our understanding of how organisms respond to landscape structure and habitat fragmentation. Until recently, however, the lack of a general, conceptual framework has made it difficult to make sense of the patterns and variability reported in the edge literature. We present a test of an edge effects model which predicts that organisms should avoid edges with less-preferred habitat, show increased abundance near edges with preferred habitat or habitat containing complementary resources, and show no response to edges with similar-quality habitat that offers only supplementary resources. We tested the predictions of this model against observations of the edge responses of 15 butterfly species at 12 different edge types within a complex, desert riparian landscape. Observations matched model predictions more than would be expected by chance for the 211 species/edge combinations tested over 3 years of study. In cases where positive or negative edge responses were predicted, observed responses matched those predictions 70% of the time. While the model tends to underpredict neutral results, it was rare that an observed edge response contradicted that predicted by the model. This study also supported the two primary ecological mechanisms underlying the model, although not equally. We detected a positive relationship between habitat preferences and the slope of the observed edge response, suggesting that this basic life history trait underlies edge effects and influences their magnitude. Empirical evidence also suggested the presence of complementary resources underlies positive edge responses, but only when completely confined to the adjacent habitat. This multi-species test of a general edge effects model at multiple edge types shows that resource-based mechanisms can explain many edge responses and that a modest knowledge of life history attributes and resource availability is sufficient for predicting and understanding many edge responses in complex landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-86
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Ecological boundary
  • Ecotone
  • Fragmentation
  • Habitat edge
  • Predictive model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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