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Butterflies and Climate Change

August 1, 2009
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In this study, which was part of Shannon Pellini's (Harvard Forest Postdoctoral fellow) dissertation work under the advisement of Jessica Hellmann at the University of Notre Dame, Shannon and colleagues performed field and laboratory reciprocal translocation experiments with skipper (Erynnis propertius) and swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) butterfly populations from Oregon and Vancouver Island. The aim of the study was to determine if butterfly populations from different locations respond favorably to warmer temperatures and colonize new locales as predicted under climate change. However, Shannon and her collaborators found that the butterfly species did not always respond favorably to warmer conditions because of local adaptaion (that is, individuals performed best in their home environment) to cooler conditions in the skipper and food plant limitations in both species. Skipper populations on Vancouver Island currently have no suitable food plants to use in new locales and the suitability of the swallowtail's food plants changes in different temperatures. This study sheds light on the importance of interactions between organisms and their resources as well as adaptation to historical conditions in limiting species' abilities to respond favorably to climate change.

Pelini, S.L., J.D.K. Dzurisin, K.M. Prior, C.M. Williams, T.D. Marsico, B.J. Sinclair, and J.J. Hellmann, 2009. Translocation experiments with butterflies reveal limits to enhancement of poleward populations under climate change. PNAS. 106:11160-11165. 

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