Resource availability drives trait composition of butterfly assemblages
How species respond to environmental change is a fundamental question in ecology and species traits can help to tackle this question. In this study, we analyze how the functional structure of species assemblages changes with selected environmental variables along an elevational gradient. In particular, we used species traits of local butterfly communities (body size, voltinism, overwintering stages, and host specificity) in a national nature reserve in China to assess the impacts of temperature, net primary productivity, and land use. Our results show that productivity, measured as NDVI, had a stronger influence on the functional community structure of butterflies than temperature. Within the butterfly assemblages, net primary productivity mainly affected body size and supported few but large species. Length of vegetation period demonstrated dominating effects on the functional structure of local butterfly assemblages. However, an observed increase in dietary generalists with longer vegetation periods contradicted expectations based on niche breadth hypothesis, that more stable conditions should favor specialists. Furthermore, the general positive impact of vegetation period on species abundances differed considerably among functional groups. Only the group containing species hibernating as egg decreased with the length of vegetation period. Our results suggest that trait associations are instructive to explain environment–herbivore relationships, that resource availability can predominantly influence the functional composition of herbivore assemblages, and that conservation priority should be given to specialist butterfly species overwintering as egg, especially in the face of global warming.