Similarities in butterfly emergence dates among populations suggest local adaptation to climate

David Roy, Tom Oliver, Marc Botham, Bjorn Beckman, Tom Brereton, Roger Dennis, Colin Harrower, Ally Phillimore, Jeremy Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Phenology shifts are the most widely cited examples of the biological impact of climate change, yet there are few assessments of potential effects on the fitness of individual organisms or the persistence of populations. Despite extensive evidence of climate-driven advances in phenological events over recent decades, comparable patterns across species' geographic ranges have seldom been described. Even fewer studies have quantified concurrent spatial gradients and temporal trends between phenology and climate. Here we analyse a large data set (~129 000 phenology measures) over 37 years across the UK to provide the first phylogenetic comparative analysis of the relative roles of plasticity and local adaptation in generating spatial and temporal patterns in butterfly mean flight dates. Although populations of all species exhibit a plastic response to temperature, with adult emergence dates earlier in warmer years by an average of 6.4 days per °C, among-population differences are significantly lower on average, at 4.3 days per °C. Emergence dates of most species are more synchronised over their geographic range than is predicted by their relationship between mean flight date and temperature over time, suggesting local adaptation. Biological traits of species only weakly explained the variation in differences between space-temperature and time-temperature phenological responses, suggesting that multiple mechanisms may operate to maintain local adaptation. As niche models assume constant relationships between occurrence and environmental conditions across a species' entire range, an important implication of the temperature-mediated local adaptation detected here is that populations of insects are much more sensitive to future climate changes than current projections suggest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3313–3322
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number9
Early online date17 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


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