We compared the movement of Pontia occidentalis in forest and meadow habitat. We hypothesized that flight distances and overall movement would be greater in forested habitat than in meadow habitat. This hypothesis was based on forging theory predicting that organisms should spend less time in areas where resources are scarce than where they are abundant. Because this species is a generalist in its use of open habitat and regularly encounters forest when dispersing and hilltopping, we also hypothesized that forested habitat would not impose a physiological limitation on their flight. To test this hypothesis we released 68 butterflies in either forest or alpine meadow habitat and followed their movement. Contrary to our hypothesis, the total distance moved, mean flight distance, and rate of flight were all lower in forest relative to meadow habitat. Forest habitat did not exert an edge effect for Pontia occidentalis flying in meadow habitat. Contrary to our second hypothesis, differences in movement appeared to be due to differences in the light levels between forest and meadow habitat. Pontia occidentalis flew more often and farther distances with increasing light intensity, which was greater in meadow habitat than in forest. Overall, the results indicate that forest may impede the movement of Pontia occidentalis, despite it regularly encountering it. The results also indicate that structural and physiological limitations on movement imposed by different habitats may preclude optimal responses to resources.
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