• Morphological and phenological responses of butterflies to seasonal temperature increase in Alaska

      Daly, Kathryn Margaret; Breed, Greg A.; Sikes, Derek S.; Mann, Daniel H. (2018-12)
      Climate is changing rapidly at high latitudes, and the responses of insects provide early indications of the impacts these changes have on biota. Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea) are among the best-known Subarctic and Arctic insects, and research in Greenland has revealed significant declines in butterfly body sizes along with advances in the timing of their first flights in spring. These changes are ecologically significant because smaller body sizes can lead to reduced fecundity in butterflies, and earlier adult emergence can have detrimental effects across trophic levels because Lepidoptera are an important food resource for birds and mammals. The primary goal of this thesis is to expand the geographical scope of previous studies of butterfly responses to high-latitude warming by testing whether Alaskan butterflies have exhibited morphological (Chapter 1) and/or phenological (Chapter 2) changes in response to rising temperatures. The morphological parameter studied here is forewing length, and the phenological parameter the timing of the first-observed flight of the year. Results show that the wings of two out of three butterfly species studied from Alaska's North Slope and Seward Peninsula decreased as seasonal (spring and summer) temperatures rose between 1971 and 1995. For every 1° C increase in average seasonal temperatures, wingspans decreased by up to 1.4 millimeters in Alaska. This compares to decreases of up to 0.65 millimeters observed in Greenland. One Alaskan species, Colias hecla Lefebvre 1836, did not show significant change in its wing lengths, although it did exhibit significant decreases in Greenland. Differences in life-history traits among species appear to result in divergent responses in Alaskan butterflies, with Boloria freija (Thunberg, 1791), which overwinters as late-instar larvae, showing the greatest decrease in wing length compared to Boloria chariclea (Edwards, 1883) which overwinters as early-instar larvae. From the start of the collection record in 1966 onward, collection and observational records from Interior Alaska reveal an average phenological advancement of 1 to 5 days/decade in 13 spring-emerging butterfly species. The morphological and phenological changes found in some species of Alaskan butterflies correlate with recent climate change, though the effects differed among species. The eco-physiological responses to climate change observed here for butterflies are likely to be shared by other insect species living at high latitudes.