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Trait data of European and Maghreb butterflies

Cite this dataset

Middleton Welling, Joseph et al. (2020). Trait data of European and Maghreb butterflies [Dataset]. Dryad.


Trait-based analyses explaining the different responses of species and communities to environmental changes are increasing in frequency. European butterflies are an indicator group that responds rapidly to environmental changes with extensive citizen science contributions to documenting changes of abundance and distribution. Species traits have been used to explain long- and short-term responses to climate, land-use and vegetation changes. Studies are often characterised by limited traits sets being used, with risks that the relative roles of different traits are not fully explored. Butterfly trait information is dispersed amongst various sources and descriptions sometimes differ between sources. We have drawn together multiple information sets to provide a comprehensive trait database covering 542 taxa and  25 main traits (subdivided into 217 sub-traits) of the butterflies of Europe and North Africa which should serve for improved trait-based ecological, conservation-related, phylogeographic and evolutionary studies of this group of insects. We provide this data in two forms; the basic data and as processed continuous and multinomial data, to enhance its potential usage. A maintained database is available at


Trait information was gathered from sources including field guides, atlases, scientific papers, and some selected online resources and direct observation in the field. Species-specific information sources are given in the database. In cases with multiple sources of trait information, data from peer reviewed papers were preferentially used. In cases where differences were identified in trait information between different sources, and could be identified as representing trait diversity, all sets of information were included in the trait database. When published information was lacking, we inferred traits using photographs  if the traits could be unequivocally determined. This included hostplants and hostplant types, egg-laying location, larval location, adult feeding, adult basking type and basking sites.  Trait information based on photographs was independently assessed by the authors in order to check the validity of the inferences. For some taxa certain trait information was not available in any source, and thus it is missing in the database.

Usage notes

We have provided the first extensive database of butterfly traits in Europe and North Africa. Of particular value is the species and geographic coverage and the extensive sets of traits that we have included. This provides an outstanding resource for improving our understanding of fundamental processes such as how traits define species co-occurrences and their responses to environmental change, their spatial dynamics, and their associations with vegetation structures. Since traits vary within different taxonomic groups, understanding their evolution and variability among different branches of the tree of life can also provide insights into phylogenetic constraints on species resource requirements and ultimately on their local abundance and large scale occurrence and vulnerability to environmental change. As our trait database includes a large component of resource requirements for all life-history stages it can also be used to aid conservation efforts by focusing on resources that may be limited for vulnerable species at small to large spatial scales. Additionally, the inclusion of behavioural traits within the database can contribute to increasing our understanding of the roles of behavioural characteristics in determining species occurrences and resource use.

For some species there is missing data and some traits currently have more missing values than others. The database will be mantained as new information is gathered.