Butterflies' evolutionary responses to warmer temperatures may compromise their ability to adapt to climate change

August 18, 2014
Brown Argus butterfly by Vince Massimo (www.ukbutterflies.co.uk)

Members of the brown argus butterfly species that moved north in response to recent climate change have evolved a narrower diet dependent on wild Geranium plants, UK researchers report. However, butterflies that did not move north have more diverse diets, including plants such as Rockrose that are abundant in southern parts of the UK.

So although rapid evolutionary changes have allowed the brown argus to move north and track the warming climate, they have led to a more . This increased specialization may limit this butterfly's continued spread north, into areas where Rockrose is common.

"Our data confirm that rapid evolutionary change in a species' diet is important for responding to recent , but as a consequence, variation in this ecologically-important trait may be lost," said Dr. Jon Bridle, co-author of the Ecology Letters study. "In addition, unlike the brown argus, many already have restricted diets, so they may be unable to rapidly evolve changes in their diets to survive ongoing climate change," said co-author Dr. James Buckley.

Explore further: Brown Argus butterfly sees positive effects of climate change

More information: Buckley, J., Bridle, J. R. (2014), Loss of adaptive variation during evolutionary responses to climate change. Ecology Letters. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12340

Related Stories

British butterfly is evolving to respond to climate change

November 30, 2011

As global temperatures rise and climatic zones move polewards, species will need to find different environments to prevent extinction. New research, published today in the journal Molecular Ecology, has revealed that climate ...

Gourmet butterflies speed north: study

May 24, 2012

A new study led by scientists in the Department of Biology at the University of York has shown how a butterfly has changed its diet, and consequently has sped northwards in response to climate change. Their study is published ...

Butterflies illustrate the effects of environmental change

July 24, 2014

Changes in butterfly fauna are yielding surprising insights into our changing environment. The effects of nitrogen from fertilizer or precipitation on the food plants and microclimate of caterpillars have a significant impact ...

Recommended for you

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antigoracle
1 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2014
Oh nose!!!
Not da butterflies...not da butterflies.
First it was the Polar bears, then the corals, now this.
When will we learn.

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.