High-Arctic Butterflies Shrink with Rising Temperatures; Metabolic Rate Increases, Outstripping Feeding Capacity and Leading to Smaller Body Size

New research shows that butterflies in Greenland have become smaller in response to increasing temperatures due to climate change. It has often been demonstrated that the ongoing rapid climate change in the Arctic region is causing substantial change to Arctic ecosystems. Now, Danish researchers demonstrate that a warmer Greenland could be bad for its butterflies, which are becoming smaller under warmer summers. Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have measured wing length of nearly 4,500 individuals collected annually between 1996 and 2013 from Zackenberg Research Station in Northeast Greenland, and found that wing length has decreased significantly in response to warmer summers and at the same rate for both species investigated. "Our studies show that males and females follow the same pattern and it is similar in two different species, which suggests that climate plays an important role in determining the body size of butterflies in Northeast Greenland," says Senior Scientist Toke T. Hoye, Ph.D., Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University. Only very few field studies have been able to follow changes in the body size of the same species over a period during which the climate has changed and this is the longest-known time series on body size variation in butterflies, of which the scientists are aware. Body size change in response to rising temperature is an anticipated response to climate change, but few studies have actually demonstrated it in the field. The response can go both ways; for some animal species, a longer feeding season results in increased body size, and for others, the changes in metabolism cause a net loss of energy which reduces the body size.
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