The butterfly effect: climate change ‘forced species to adapt’

 

A A A

A British butterfly species has made climate-change history by becoming the first known animal of any kind to lose the ability to do something after global warming forced it to move to a new environment and adapt its behaviour.

The brown argus butterfly has spread from long-established sites in the south of England further north to areas such as Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire as climate change has made them warmer and more habitable.

But in the move the species has lost its ability to eat one of the two plants on which it has traditionally survived because it is not prevalent in its new home, according to new research.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that the loss of adaptive variation during evolutionary responses to recent climate change has been demonstrated in any animal,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr Jon Bridle, of the University of Bristol.

The research found that butterflies from long-established southern sites laid eggs on two food plants: rockrose and wild geranium. By contrast, females from recently colonised populations further north will only lay eggs on the widespread geranium and not the rockrose, which is far scarcer due to the lack of limestone rock in the area.

Essentially, the butterflies have become so focused on geraniums in their new habitat that they have lost the ability to eat – and therefore lay eggs on – rockrose, the research found.

“Such narrowing... may have implications for [the species’] further expansion northwards,” said the report, a joint project with Glasgow University that has been publicised in the journal Ecology Letters.

The study noted that narrowing its diet has helped the brown argus – or Aricia agestis – spread into new areas, although it was unable to determine why. However, Dr Bridle said the loss of its prediliction for rockrose may limit its ability to move further north.

The researchers conducted their experiments by using shopping baskets to transplant female butterflies between habitats across the UK, and counting the number of eggs they laid on larval food plants in different areas.

These results show the importance of conducting experiments in natural habitats as well as in laboratory environments, the report said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before