Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Light-colored butterflies and dragonflies thriving as European climate warms

Date:
May 27, 2014
Source:
Imperial College London
Summary:
Butterflies and dragonflies with lighter colors are out-competing darker-colored insects in the face of climate change. Scientists have shown that as the climate warms across Europe, communities of butterflies and dragonflies consist of more lighter coloured species. Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer.

Butterfly on lavender.
Credit: © Gordan Jankulov / Fotolia

Butterflies and dragonflies with lighter colours are out-competing darker-coloured insects in the face of climate change.

In a new study published in Nature Communications, scientists from Imperial College London, Philipps-University Marburg and University of Copenhagen have shown that as the climate warms across Europe, communities of butterflies and dragonflies consist of more lighter coloured species. Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer.

For example, several Mediterranean dragonfly species have expanded their northern range and immigrated to Germany, such as the Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis), the Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) and the Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum). In 2010, the Dainty Damselfly was also sighted in England for the first time in over 50 years. Butterfly species that thrive in warm climates, like the Southern Small White (Pieris mannii), have dispersed to Germany during the last ten years and are still continuing their northward shift.

As with lizards and snakes, the colour of an insect's body plays a key role in how they absorb energy from the sun, and is crucial in fuelling their flight as well as regulating their body temperature.

Dark-coloured insects are able to absorb more sunlight than light-coloured insects, in order to increase their body temperature, and are more likely to be found in cooler climates. In contrast, insects in hotter climates need to protect themselves against overheating. Light-coloured insects are more likely to be found in hotter climates as they can reflect the light to prevent overheating their body and be active for longer periods of time.

Carsten Rahbek, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London said: "For two of the major groups of insects, we have now demonstrated a direct link between climate and insect colour, which impact their geographical distribution."

"We now know that lighter-coloured butterflies and dragonflies are doing better in a warmer world, and we have also demonstrated that the effects of climate change on where species live are not something of the future, but that nature and its ecosystems are changing as we speak," concluded Professor Rahbek, who is also Director of the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. To identify whether colour lightness was correlated to temperature, the scientists combined digital image analysis, which scanned and measured colour values of butterfly and dragonfly wings and bodies, with distributional data which mapped where in Europe the species are found.

They looked at 366 butterfly species and 107 dragonfly species across Europe, and showed a clear pattern of light-coloured insects dominating the warmer south of Europe and darker insects dominating the cooler north.

To test whether a warming climate had caused any shifts, they looked at changes in species distributions over an 18-year period from 1988-2006. Results showed that on average insects were becoming lighter in colour, and that darker-coloured insects were shifting towards the cooler areas in Western margins of Europe, the Alps and the Balkans.

Research has previously suggested that climate change is having an impact on the distribution of species, but this study provides evidence of a direct link and confirms basic assumptions about how changes in the climate can affect patterns of biodiversity.

Lead author Dirk Zeuss from Philipps-University Marburg in Germany said: "When studying biodiversity, we lack general rules about why certain species occur where they do. With this research we've been able to show that butterfly and dragonfly species across Europe are distributed according to their ability to regulate heat through their colour variation. Until now we could only watch the massive changes in the insect fauna during the last 20 years. Now we have an idea of what could be a strong cause of the changes."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Imperial College London. The original article was written by Gail Wilson. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Dirk Zeuss, Roland Brandl, Martin Brδndle, Carsten Rahbek, Stefan Brunzel. Global warming favours light-coloured insects in Europe. Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS4874

Cite This Page:

Imperial College London. "Light-colored butterflies and dragonflies thriving as European climate warms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527114909.htm>.
Imperial College London. (2014, May 27). Light-colored butterflies and dragonflies thriving as European climate warms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527114909.htm
Imperial College London. "Light-colored butterflies and dragonflies thriving as European climate warms." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527114909.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) — A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lion Cubs the Pride of San Diego Zoo

Lion Cubs the Pride of San Diego Zoo

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 13, 2014) — Roars of excitement as a proud lioness shows off her four cubs at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins