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Human land use has removed habitats, separated habitats into small and disconnected fragments, and introduced foreign species, which all harm wildlife. South Texas is highly diverse and home to many endangered species, but human disturbance threatens its wildlife. In south Texas, we poorly understand how different aspects of human land use influence wildlife diversity and abundance. We studied this by surveying plants and butterflies in 24 habitat fragments in south Texas that differed in size, shape, type, and land use history. Human disturbance was extensive, and foreign and weedy species were dominant in most habitats. Habitat types had distinctive sets of plants and butterflies, but habitats with the most human disturbance were the least distinct and had the most foreign or weedy species. Usually, larger and less-fragmented habitats have fewer foreign and weedy species and have higher diversity, and habitats with more foreign and weedy species have lower diversity, but only the first of these was true in our study. This suggests that historic sets of native plants are very rare, most areas are actively recovering from disturbance, and foreign species are now a normal part of communities. This study helps us understand how human land use impacts wildlife and how we can better manage land to protect and enhance wildlife.


Habitat loss, fragmentation, and invasive species are major threats to biodiversity. In the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) of southern Texas, a conservation hotspot, few studies have examined how land use change and biotic disturbance influence biodiversity, particularly among Lepidoptera. We surveyed 24 habitat fragments on private lands in the LRGV and examined how patch size, edge to interior ratio (EIR), prevalence of invasive, exotic, and pest (IEP) plant species, and other environmental factors influenced plant and Lepidoptera communities within four habitat classes. Biotic disturbance was widespread and intense. IEP plants represented three of the four most common species in all but one habitat class; yet, classes largely had distinctive plant and Lepidoptera communities. Larger habitat patches had lower IEP prevalence but also lower plant richness and lower Lepidoptera richness and abundance. Conversely, patches with higher EIRs had greater IEP prevalence, plant richness, and Lepidoptera richness and abundance. IEP prevalence was negatively related to plant diversity and positively related to woody dominance, blooming plant abundance, and, surprisingly, both plant cover and richness. However, plant richness, abundance, and diversity were higher where a greater proportion of the plants were native. Lepidoptera diversity increased with plant cover, and Lepidoptera richness and abundance increased with plant richness. More individual Lepidoptera species were influenced by habitat attributes than by availability of resources such as host plants or nectar sources. Our results illustrate extensive landscape alteration and biotic disturbance and suggest that most regional habitats are at early successional stages and populated by a novel species pool heavy in IEP species; these factors must be considered together to develop effective and realistic management plans for the LRGV.


© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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