Climate change may disrupt butterfly flight seasons

November 21, 2013
This image shows butterfly specimens. Credit: Heather Kharouba

The flight season timing of a wide variety of butterflies is responsive to temperature and could be altered by climate change, according to a UBC study that leverages more than a century's worth of museum and weather records.

Researchers from UBC, the Université de Sherbrooke and the University of Ottawa combed through Canadian museum collections of more than 200 species of and matched them with weather station data going back 130 years. They found butterflies possess a widespread temperature sensitivity, with flight season occurring on average 2.4 days earlier per degree celsius of temperature increase.

"With warmer temperatures butterflies emerge earlier in the year, and their active flight season occurs earlier," says Heather Kharouba, lead author of the paper published this week in Global Change Biology. "This could have several implications for butterflies. If they emerge too early, they could encounter frost and die. Or they might emerge before the food plants they rely on appear and starve."

"Butterflies are also a bell-weather, and provide an early warning signal for how other wildlife may respond to ," adds Kharouba, who conducted the research while completing her PhD at UBC, and is now a post-doctoral researcher with the University of California, Davis.

The researchers utilized the day of collection found in records to estimate the timing of flight season for each species, and compared it with the historical weather data.

This image shows butterfly specimens. Credit: Heather Kharouba

The study was possible thanks to the massive amount of data housed in museum collections and records. Much of the butterfly data in Canada has been centralized via the Canadian National Collection of Butterflies—records in British Columbia being the exception. To gather data for this province, Kharouba relied on private collections. Only a small portion of the butterfly specimens found in UBC's Beaty Biodiversity Museum-Vancouver are databased.

"Museum collection records are an under-exploited resource of ecological data and can provide a window into the past, and potentially the future," says Kharouba. "We should invest in efforts to properly database and centralize more of these records."

Explore further: Dual-sex butterfly hatches at Natural History Museum

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study shows female frogs susceptible to 'decoy effect'

August 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers has found that female túngaras, frogs that live in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, appear to be susceptible to the "decoy effect." In their paper published in the journal ...

Reprogramming the oocyte

August 26, 2015

(Phys.org)—Among other things, the egg is optimized to process the sperm genome. The cytoplasmic factors that make this possible also give the egg the ability to reprogram the nuclei from other kinds of cells if these nuclei ...

Research advances on transplant ward pathogen

August 28, 2015

The fungus Cryptococcus causes meningitis, a brain disease that kills about 1 million people each year—mainly those with impaired immune systems due to AIDS, cancer treatment or an organ transplant. It's difficult to treat ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.