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The Effect of Climate Change on Butterfly Phenology

Author(s): Debra Linton1, Anna Monfils1, Molly Phillips2, Elizabeth Ellwood3

1. Central Michigan University 2. Florida Museum of Natural History 3. La Brea Tar Pits & Museum

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In this module, students explore changes in butterfly phenology through the use of natural history collections data.

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 12 Jun 2018 doi:10.25334/Q46Q5B - cite this


Phenology is the study of the timing of cyclical events in an organism’s life cycle, including plants flowering, insects emerging, and birds migrating. The timing of these events is often influenced by climatic variables, in particular temperature and precipitation. As global weather patterns are altered due to climate change, an organism’s phenology may change in response. Further, interactions between organisms may be affected to the detriment of one or both species. If, for example, a plant flowers earlier in warmer springs, it is dependent on its insect pollinators emerging at a similarly early pace in order for the plant to be pollinated and effectively reproduce. Likewise, the insect pollinator will ideally emerge at a time when its nectar food source is available. If the phenological timing of associated organisms is no longer synced, the interaction may be disrupted and result in what is known as an ecological mismatch.

In the present exercise, students explore natural history collections as a source of phenology data, using the research presented in the article, Flowering time of butterfly nectar food plants is more sensitive to temperature than the timing of butterfly adult flight (Kharouba and Vellend 2015) as an entry point. Students use natural history collections data downloaded from the iDigBio portal representing flight dates of butterfly species in British Columbia, Canada. These species are a subset of those used by Kharouba and Vellend. Students are also provided temperature data and assess how temperature has changed over time and how butterfly phenology relates to temperature. Students interpret their graphs and assess how butterfly phenology is changing and whether an ecological mismatch may be possible.

The authors would like to thank the AIM-UP! project for leading the way in integrating natural history collections in undergraduate education, to QUBES and the DIG Faculty Mentoring Network for providing the infrastructure and constructive discussions about this lesson, to the Biodiversity Literacy in Undergraduate Education (BLUE) network for ongoing dialogue on the topic, and to Central Michigan University for their support of this effort in their biology curriculum.

Please cite as:

Debra Linton, Anna Monfils, Molly Phillips, and Elizabeth R. Ellwood. 2018. The Effect of Climate Change on Butterfly Phenology. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 13: Practice #7 [online]. doi:10.25334/Q46Q5B

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