Electronic Scientific Paper Archive

Habitat Occupancy and Mobility of the Violet Copper (Lycaena helle) in West Khentii, Northern Mongolia

Chuluunbaatar Gantigmaa1, Michael Muehlenberg2 and Magsarjav Altantsetseg3
1Laboratory of Entomology, Institute of Biology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia,
2Centre for Nature Conservation, George-August University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany
3Department of Zoology, Faculty of Biology, National University of Mongolia,Ulaanbaatar 210646, Mongolia


The violet copper (Lycaena helle Denis & Schiffermueller, 1775) was studied using mark-releaserecapture method in West Khentii in northern Mongolia. The netting method was used for collecting the violet copper during one hour standardised sample in different biotopes. Violet copper was found predominantly in the wet, mesophilous grassland and herb meadows, but it also found in the birch forests in the riparian zone the valley as well as in the mixed forests consisted of Larix sibirica and Betula platyphylla. We examined the movement and individual occurrence through the habitat types of West Khentii. The mean distance between the fi rst and subsequent capture points in the open area were greater than that of in fragmented landscapes for both sexes (107±76 and 44±41 m for females and males, respectively). The single greatest movement distance between recaptures was 386 m for females and 163 m for males.

Keyword: Lycaena helle,habitat occupancy,mobility,West Khentii,Mongolia


Lycaena helle (Denis & Schiffermueller, 1775) is one of the rarest butterfl y species in Central Europe (Fischer et al., 1999) and is considered to be an endangered species in Germany (Bundesamt fuer Naturschutz 1998). Afforestion, peat extraction and management to improve the quality of cattle grazing (such as drainage, burning and chemical treatment) are main factors in Central Europe in disturbing the suitable habitat of this species (Kudrna, 1986). The local extinction and decline of many butterfl y species are related to changes in habitat quality (van Swaay & Warren, 1999; Summerville et al., 2002; William, 1998; Rodriguez et al., 1994). Many authors documented the infl uence of landscape patterns on butterfl y community (Schneider 2003; Natuhara et al., 1999; Saarinen, 2002; Dover et al., 1997; Schneider & Fry, 2001; Pullin 1997; Rodriguez et al., 1994; Summerville et al., 2003; Summerville & Thomas, 2004). Sparks and Carey (1995) revealed the infl uence of the fl oral composition on butterfl y diversity. Dover et al. (1997) discussed the importance of shelter in the open habitats for butterfl ies. The feature of the landscape is most important predictor that infl uences the population and community structure of butterfl y species (Hunter, 2002; Tews et al., 2004; Rodriguez, 1994; Pullin, 1997; Root, 1972; Ehrlich & Murphy, 1987; Dennis & Eales, 1997). In comparison with those environmental conditions of Europe and all other regions in the similar latitude, ecosystems in Mongolia are relatively undamaged. In this study we chose the violet copper, Lycaena helle, which lives as small populations on fragmented and isolated habitat islands in Central Europe (Fischer et al., 1999; Van Swaay & Warren, 1999). The main aim of this study was to investigate the occupancy of violet copper in different habitat types of West Khentii, Mongolia. The specifi c objectives of this study are to characterise the infl uence of landscape structure and vegetation type on violet copper population with comparison of their habitat occupancy, and to determine the mobility of the individuals in natural landscape.

Material and Methods

Study area. The Khentii Mountains are located north-central part of Mongolia and covered by boreal taiga forests. This is one of the coldest areas in Mongolia and contains continuous and isolated forms of permafrost (Gantsetseg & Sharkhuu, 2002). West Khentii is a part of the Khentii mountain range and is located in the transitional zone between the taiga forest and steppe ecosystems. Main data on climate characteristics in West Khentii can be found in Velsen-Zerweck (2002) and Gantigmaa (2005). The forest area in West Khentii region consists of only some patches climax coniferous forests, because fi re causes the formation of mixed forest in variable successional stages (Gunin et al., 1999; Goldammer & Furyaer, 1996). River valley separates the hilly terrains of this region. This natural area includes grasslands (e.g. mountain dry steppe, meadow steppe, peat meadow, herb meadow and wet grassland dominated by Carex sp.) and the riparian woodlands (e.g. dense Betula fusca shrub and Salix sp., open riparian forests with Larix sibirica and Betula platyphylla with shrub layer, Picea obovata riparian forest, Populus laurifolia riparian forest) (Dulamsuren, 2004). Muehlenberg et al. (2000) described the following eight different vegetation types in the West Khentii: mountain taiga, mountain forest, meadow steppe, mountain dry steppe, scrublands, riparian woodland, herb meadows and wet grasslands. Study site. The mobility of adult violet coppers surveyed in open areas of herbaceous plant meadows with shrub layers (Dulamsuren, 2004). These habitats are heterogeneous with shrubs and herb meadow on the terrace in the river valley, and with mountain dry steppe on southern slopes (Fig. 1).

The size of this habitat is less than 10 ha, but it includes two different plant communities: herb meadow (e.g. Iris sanguinea and Alopecurus arundinaceus community) and Carex-rich wet grassland (bog area). Shrub layer contains Salix and Padus asiatica shrubs (Dulamsuren, 2004). Mountain dry steppe has a sparse vegetation cover dominated by Potentilla-Carex community, often including Potentilla acaulis, P. viscosa, Artemisia sp., Koeleria macrantha, Poa sp., Thymus sp., Pulsatilla sp., Oxytropis sp., and Lilium pumilium. In contrast, the herb meadow was predominated by Carex-Artemisia association, including other important genera of larval food plants, such as Bromus, Galium, Achillea, Poa, Equisetum, Dianthus, Polygonum, Sanguisorba, Vicia, Spiraea, Scutellaria, Potentilla, and Carum, Carex are widely distributed throughout both habitats and are utilised as food plants by many species of butterfl ies. Habitat occupancy of adult violet coppers. Field data on habitat occupancy of violet coppers were collected in different types of vegetation. The information was gathered on each habitat type and the number of individuals of violet copper was collected. The netting method was used for collecting the violet coppers during one hour sample in different biotopes. Mobility of adult violet coppers. The observations on mobility of the violet coppers were repeatedly made during 06 to 26 June, 2004 and 2005 at the Eroo river valley on the terrace. The survey started at about 11.00 AM., and continued until 2.00 PM., with careful search for adult coppers in all open areas including the bush layers when it was sunny. During the survey we searched about 50 square meter area on the site and netted all individuals encountered. One person marked the individuals and subsequently released it. The exact GPS position of all individuals captured during the mark-release-recapture study was plotted on a map, in order to get measures of movement distances between captures. Distances moved by coppers were estimated by a straight line between the places released and recaptured points.


Habitat occupancy of adult violet coppers. Gained data based on standardised counts indicate that the violet coppers occupy the most of habitat types of West Khentii (Table 1).

The violet coppers predominantly found in the herb meadows and wet, mesophilous grassland (ANOVA, F6,28 =3.54, P<0.01), but it is also found in the riparian woodland in the birch forests of the valley, as well as in the mixed forests. No constant occurrences of violet coppers were observed in the mountain dry steppe and meadow steppe. Capture-mark-recapture data. Overall 392 individuals of violet coppers (205 females and 187 males) were captured and marked during the survey period. 21% of total marked individuals were recaptured at least once within 20 days of survey, and 26% of males and 17% of females were recaptured at least once (Table 2). The maximum time interval between mark and recapture was 18 days for males and 13 days for females. Males were recaptured more than females. 24.5% of total recaptured individuals were encountered three times, but only 4.6% more than 4 times. Mobility of adult violet coppers. Recapture results show great differences between mean distances moved by males and females (Table3).

The mean distances between the fi rst and subsequent capture were greater for both sexes (107 ± 76 and 44 ± 41 meters for females and males, respectively) than reported in other studies (Fischer et al., 1999).

Actually 42.5% of the linear distances between recaptures of violet coppers was less than 40 meters, 22% was less than 100 meters and 35.5% less than 200 meters. The single greatest movement between recaptures was 386 m for females and 163 m for males. Mean distances moved between recaptures were signifi cantly different for both sexes (for male 44 ± 41 m, female 181 ± 74 m; (ANOVA, F1,82=16.25, P<0.001 (Table 3). For the case of multiple recaptures, if we connect the marginal two points covered by each individual, the average restricted movement were signifi cantly different for both sexes (ANOVA, F1,26=83.16, P<0.001). Most of marked adults were recaptured nearby previous place. Habitat characteristics. The total number of observed visits to fl owers was 455 during the mark-release-recapture study, and they visited in total 21 plant species (Table 4). The females and males visited 19 and 15 plant species, respectively. This species of violet copper feeds on nectar of seven plant species, among which most frequently two species with white fl owers: Anemone crinita (18% of all visits) and Callianthemum isophoides (12%). Both the sexes of violet coppers visited most often the leaves of Polygonum viviparum and Filipendula palmate. It must be added that both these plant species were less abundant in this area.


Adults of violet copper prefer wet, mesophilous grassland, moist clearings in the forest and the habitats along streams, springs and bogs with abundance of foodplants (Van Swaay & Warren, 1999). However, in case of northern Mongolia, violet coppers are predominantly found in the wet, mesophilous grassland and herb meadows, but it is also found in the riparian woodland, in the birch forests of the valley as well as in mixed forests. The species is not often found in the mountain dry steppes and meadow steppes of West Khentii. However, the food plant of violet copper is still not clear in northern Mongolia. A species, Polygonum bistorta and its relatives (e.g. Polygonum viviparum) are reported as larval food plants in Europe (Van Swaay & Warren, 1999). This study suggests a higher recapture rate of male butterfl ies than females. The males were more active than females, and they tend to stay in a habitat patch for longer time of period than females. The mean distance between fi rst and subsequent captures of violet copper were greater than those reported in other studies (e.g. Fischer et al., 1999), but it was shorter than that of the scarce copper (Lycaena virgaureae) (Schneider et al., 2003; Gantigmaa, 2005). In the open habitats, where individuals fi nd their resources, they could travel everywhere. On one hand, in natural landscape, which contains higher plant diversity, the individuals have enough resources, it is not necessary to move far searching next suitable habitats, like other butterfl y species that live in fragmented habitats (Schneider et al., 2003). Therefore, vast nature reserve and wilderness of West Khentii forest steppe ecosystem supports the full complement of native vegetation for butterfl ies (Dulamsuren, 2004; Gantigmaa, 2005) in North Mongolia. Hence, mosaic structure of this natural landscape plays an important role for habitat requirements of violet copper. The violet copper is restricted to sheltered locations in the vicinity of scrubs and trees (Schurian & Fiedler, 1999) instead of moist meadows (Van Swaay & Warren, 1999).


This study was granted by DFG (German Research Foundation), within the Graduating Colleague Programme ‘Biodiversity’. We are grateful to following colleagues for their kind assistance and support: D. Myagmarsuren and A. Enkhmaa provided invaluable assistance during the mark-release-recapture fi eld work. The University of Goettingen provided fi eld facilities. R. Tungalag and B. Oyuntsetseg provided help for identifi cation of plant species.


  1. Bundesamt fuer Naturschutz (ed.). 1998. Rote Liste gefaehrdeter Tiere Deutschlands. Schriftenreihe Naturschutz. Heft 55, BfN, Bonn-Bad Godesberg. 434 pp.
  2. Dennis, R. L. H. & Eales, T. 1997. Patch ocupancy in Coenonympha tullia (Mueller, 1764) (Lepidoptera; Satyrinae): habitat quality matters as much as patch size and isolation. J. Insect Conserv., 1: 167-176.
  3. Dover, J. W., Sparks, T. H. & Greatorex-Davies, J. N. 1997. The importance of shelter for butterfl ies in open landscapes. J. Insect Conserv., 1: 89-97.
  4. Dulamsuren, Ch. 2004. Floristische Diversitдt, Vegetation und Standortbedingungen in der Gebirgstaiga des Westkhentej, Nordmongolei. PhD Dissertation in Biology, University of Goettingen. 267pp.
  5. Ehrlich, P. R. & Murphy, D. D. 1987. Conservation lessons from long-term studies of checkerspot butterfl ies. Conserv. Biol., 1: 122-131.
  6. Fischer, K., Beinlich, B. & Plachter, H. 1999. Population structure, mobility and habitat preferences of the violet copper Lycaena helle (Lepidoptera; Lycaenidae) in West Germany: implications for conservation. J. Insect Conserv., 3: 43-52.
  7. Gantsetseg, B. & Sharkhuu, Kh. 2001. Distribution and evolution permafrost in Mongolia of a part, is located in South-Siberian region of Russia http: //www.ogbus.com/
  8. Gantigmaa, Ch. 2005. Butterfl y communities in the natural landscape of West Khentej, northern Mongolia: diversity and conservation value. PhD Dissertation in Biology, University of Goettingen.126 pp.
  9. Goldammer, J. G. & Furyaer, V. V. 1996. Fire in ecosystems of boreal Eurasia. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Boston, London, 528 p.
  10. Gunin, P. D., Vostokova, A. E., Dorofeyuk, I. N. Tarasov, E. P. & Black, C. C. 1999. Vegetation Dynamics of Mongolia. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Netherlands, 238 pp.
  11. Hunter, M. D. 2002. Landscape structure, habitat fragmentation, and the ecology of insects. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 4: 159- 166.
  12. Kudrna, O. 1986. Butterfl ies of Europe. AULAVerlag, Darmstadt, 323 pp.
  13. Muehlenberg, M., Slowik, J., Samja, R., Dulamsuren, Ch., Gantigmaa, Ch. & Woycechowski, M. 2000. The conservation value of West Khentej, North Mongolia. Evaluation of plant and butterfl y communities. Fragmenta Floristica et Geobotanica, 45: 63- 90
  14. Natuhara, Y., Imai, C. & Takahashi, M. 1999. Pattern of land mosaics affecting butterfl y assemblage at Mt Ikoma, Osaka. Ecol. Research, 14: 105-118.
  15. Pullin, A. 1997. Habitat requirements of Lycaena dispar batavus and implications for reestablishment in England. J. Insect Conserv., 1: 177-185.
  16. Rodriguez, J., Jordano, D. & Fernandez, H. J. 1994. Spatial heterogeneity in a butterfl y-host plant interaction. J. Anim. Ecol., 63: 31-38.
  17. Root, R. B. 1972. Organization of a plant-arthropod association in simple and diverse habitats: The fauna of collards (Brassica oleracea). Ecol. Monogr., 43: 95-124
  18. Saarinen, K. 2002. Butterfl y Communities in Relation to Changes in the Management of Agricultural Environments. Dissertation in Biology, University of Joensuu, 94 pp.
  19. Schneider, C. & Fry, G. L. A. 2001. The infl uence of landscape grain size on butterfl y diversity in grasslands. J. Insect Conserv., 5: 163-171.
  20. Schneider, C., Dover, J. & Fry, G. L. A. 2003. Movement of two grassland butterfl ies in the same habitat network: the role of adult resources and size of the study area. Ecol. Entomol., 28: 219-227.
  21. Schurian, K. G. & Fiedler, K. 1996. Adult behaviour and early stages of Lycaena ochimus (Herrich-Schaefer [1851] (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae). Nachr. Entomol. Verein Apollo, N.F. 16, 329-343)
  22. Sparks, T. H. & Carey, P. D. 1995. The responses of species to climate over two centuries: an analysis of the Marsham phenological record, 1736-1947. Journal of Ecology, 83: 321-329.
  23. Summerville, K. S., Veech, J. A. & Crist, T. O. 2002. Does variation in patch use among butterfl y species contribute to nestedness at fi ne spatial scales? Oikos, 97: 195-204.
  24. Summerville, K. S. & Crist, T. O. 2003. Determinants of lepidopteran community composition and species diversity in eastern deciduous forests: roles of season, ecoregion, and patch size. Oikos, 100:134-148.
  25. Summerville, K. S. & Crist, T. O. 2004. Contrasting effects of habitat quantity and quality on moth communities in fragmented landscapes. Ecography, 27: 3-12.
  26. Tews J., Brose U., Grimm V., Tielbuerger K., Wichmann M.C., Schwager M. & Jeltsch F. 2004. Animal species diversity driven by habitat heterogeneity/diversity: the importance of keystone structures. Journal of Biogeography, 31: 79-92.
  27. Van Swaay, C. & Warren, M. 1999. Red Data Book of European Butterfl ies (Rhopalocera). Nature and environment, No. 99. Council of Europe Publishing.
  28. Von Velsen-Zerweck, M. 2002. Socio-economic Causes of Forest Loss in Mongolia. Doctoral Dissertation, Wissenschaftsverlag Vauk Kiel KG, Goettingen, 357 pp.
  29. William, J. S. 1998. The effect of local change in habitat quality on populations of migratory species. Journal Applied Ecology, 35: 418- 421.