From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 22, 2013 08:41 AM

Climate Change May Affect Butterfly Flight Season

Most butterflies will become active or wake from hibernation during the first warm days of spring. However, emerging too early and facing unpredictable elements could be detrimental to the survival of the butterfly as they could encounter frost and harsher weather during consequent days of their short adult lives.

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According to new research from the University of British Columbia, the Université de Sherbrooke and the University of Ottawa, increasing temperatures caused by global climate change will ultimately affect the flight season timing of these winged beauties.

A team of researchers combed through Canadian museum collections of more than 200 butterfly species and matched them with weather station data going back 130 years.

As a result, researchers found butterflies possess widespread temperature sensitivity, with flight season occurring an average of 2.4 days earlier per degree Celsius of temperature increase.

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

"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."

Even a slight decline in butterfly population will have consequences for other species going up the food chain.

In addition, emerging earlier than usual can also affect migration patterns for some of the butterfly species.

As a bellwether, or indicator species, butterflies "provide an early warning signal for how other wildlife may respond to climate change," 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 study was possible thanks to data housed in museum collections and records. Kharouba also relied on private collections to add to the data set.

Read more at the University of British Columbia.

Butterflies image via Shutterstock.

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