Study finds that mild winters are detrimental to butterfliesApril 23, 2012
The recent mild winter throughout much of the United States was a cause for celebration for many. However, butterfly aficionados shouldn't be joining in the celebration.
A new study by Jessica Hellmann, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, and researchers from Western University found that mild winters, such as the one many of us just experienced, can be taxing for some butterfly or possibly other species.
Hellmann and her fellow researchers studied caterpillars of the Propertius Duskywing butterfly, which feed on Gary Oak trees. This species of caterpillar, like many insects, has a higher metabolic rate and burns more fat during mild winters.
"The energy reserves the caterpillars collect in the summer need to provide enough energy for both overwintering and metamorphosing into a butterfly in the spring," Caroline William, lead author of the study, said.
So a butterfly needs to conserve as much energy as it can during the winter months. In the paper, Hellmann and her colleagues explain for the first time how warmer winters can lead to a decrease in the number of butterflies.
However, Hellmann and the Western University researchers found that warmer winters might not always reduce butterfly populations as much as one might initially think. They reared caterpillars in two different locations: one which often experiences more variable and warmer winter temperatures and one which generally features more stable and generally cooler winter temperatures. The caterpillars that were exposed to the warmer and more variable conditions were better able to withstand the warmer conditions, simply by being exposed to them. They did so by lowering the sensitivity of their metabolism.
However, the ability of even caterpillars accustomed to warmer, more variable winters to cope with such conditions is still limited, according to the researchers. They calculated the energy use of both groups of caterpillars and discovered that the caterpillars that lower their metabolic rates to deal with warmer winters still use significantly more energy to survive them.
"We still have lot to learn about how organisms will respond to climate change," Hellmann said. "Our study shows significant biological effects of climate change, but it also shows that organisms can partially adjust their physiology to compensate. We now need to discover if other species adjust in similar ways to our example species."
So although mild winters may be a cause for celebration for many of us, those who are concerned are biodiversity might find them to be much more somber seasons.
The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and the U.S. Department of Energy.
University of Notre Dame
Related Butterflies Current Events and Butterflies News Articles
A hairy situation: Hair increases surface area for animals by 100 times
Georgia Institute of Technology researchers combed through more than two dozen studies and did surface measurements for 27 mammals and insects to better understand how animals are able to clean themselves.
Wing structure helps female monarch butterflies outperform males in flight
Evidence has been mounting that female monarch butterflies are better at flying and more successful at migration than males, and researchers from the University of Georgia have now come up with an explanation--but not one they expected.
Public Release: 30-Oct-2015 Some like it hot: Moth and butterfly species respond differently to climate change
New research led by ecologists at the University of York shows that certain species of moths and butterflies are becoming more common, and others rarer, as species differ in how they respond to climate change.
High-arctic butterflies shrink with rising temperatures
New research shows that butterflies in Greenland have become smaller in response to increasing temperatures due to climate change.
Color-coding sensor: Nanostructures for contactless control
Chemists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Univeristaet (LMU) in Munich have fabricated a novel nanosheet-based photonic crystal that changes color in response to moisture. The new material could form the basis for humidity-sensitive contactless control of interactive screens on digital devices.
Maternal experience brings an evolutionary advantage
Using a species of butterfly as an example, researchers from the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Basel have demonstrated how insects adapt their offspring to changing environmental conditions.
Naturally occurring 'GM' butterflies produced by gene transfer of wasp-associated viruses
Research teams from the University of Valencia and the University of Tours have discovered that genes originating from parasitic wasps are present in the genomes of many butterflies.
Family tree for orchids explains their astonishing variability
Orchids, a fantastically complicated and diverse group of flowering plants, have long blended the exotic with the beautiful.
Severe droughts could lead to widespread losses of butterflies by 2050
Widespread drought-sensitive butterfly population extinctions could occur in the UK as early as 2050 according to a new study published today in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
Genetic study of 'co-evolution' could provide clues to better food production
In 1964, renowned biologists Peter Raven and Paul Erhlich published a landmark study that introduced the concept of co-evolution.
More Butterflies Current Events and Butterflies News Articles