Seasonally adaptable species may face greatest risk from climate change

phys.org | 3/8/2018 | Staff
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A species of butterfly that changes its appearance through the seasons lacks the genetic variation needed to quickly evolve a different response to more unpredictable environmental conditions, such as those expected under a changing climate, according to an international study including researchers from Wageningen University & Research.

The study, published 8 March 2018 in Nature Communications, uses gene expression and genomic analysis of an African savannah butterfly, Bicyclus anynana, to suggest that species that have different traits depending on the time of year may be especially vulnerable if the climate changes and their seasonal cues are no longer reliable.

Assumption - Biology - Species - Individuals - Ability

"A general assumption in evolutionary biology is that species where individuals have the ability to adjust how they look and spend their energy in response to short-term changes in their environment, are also those most likely to adapt to climate change. Such environmentally induced changes in the appearance and functioning of individuals, known as phenotypic plasticity, are a common adaptation of insects in seasonally variable environments," said the study's lead author, Dr. Vicencio Oostra (University College London UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment; Wageningen University & Research, Laboratory of Genetics).

"But there are theoretical predictions that this plasticity could be a hindrance to climate change adaptation, and we are now providing the first empirical support to those predictions that species specialised to changing seasons could face greater extinction risk due to climate change," he said.

Researchers - Butterfly - Bicyclus - Anynana - Malawi

The researchers studied the butterfly Bicyclus anynana from Malawi which is a textbook example of seasonal plasticity. If an individual is born in the warm wet season, it will live a short life of fast growth and maximal reproduction; if born in the cool dry season, its life history is one of inactivity, postponed reproduction, and long lifespan.

The authors analysed the RNA of 72 butterflies, in a split-brood, full factorial analysis...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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