Distribution drivers of the alien butterfly Geranium bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) in an alpine protected area and indications for an effective management.
Cacyreus marshalli is the only alien butterfly in Europe. It has recently spread in the Gran Paradiso National Park (GPNP), where it could potentially compete with native geranium-consuming butterflies. Our study aimed to (1) assess the main drivers of its distribution, (2) evaluate the potential species distribution in GPNP and (3) predict different scenarios to understand the impact of climate warming and the effect of possible mitigations. Considering different sampling designs (opportunistic and standardised) and different statistical approaches (MaxEnt and N-mixture models), we built up models predicting habitat suitability and egg abundance for the alien species, testing covariates as bioclimatic variables, food plant (Pelargonium spp.) distribution and land cover. A standardised approach resulted in more informative data collection due to the survey design adopted. Opportunistic data could be potentially informative but a major investment in citizen science projects would be needed. Both approaches showed that C. marshalli is associated with its host plant distribution and therefore confined in urban areas. Its expansion is controlled by cold temperatures which, even if the host plant is abundant, constrain the number of eggs. Rising temperatures could lead to an increase in the number of eggs laid, but the halving of Pelargonium spp. populations would mostly mitigate the trend, with a slight countertrend at high elevations.