, Volume 141, Issue 1, pp 148-157
Date: 29 Jul 2004

Field transplants reveal summer constraints on a butterfly range expansion

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Abstract

The geographic ranges of most species are expected to shift to higher elevations and latitudes in response to global warming. But species react to specific environmental changes in individualistic ways, and we are far from a detailed understanding of range-shifts. Summer temperature often limits the ranges of insects and plants, so many range-shifts are expected to track summer warming. I explore this potential range-limiting factor in a case study of a northwardly expanding American butterfly, Atalopedes campestris (Lepidoptera, Hesperiidae). This species has recently colonized the Pacific Northwest, USA, where the mean annual temperature has risen 0.8–1.8°C over the past 100 years. Using field transplant experiments across the current range edge, I measured development time, survivorship, fecundity and predation rates along a naturally occurring thermal gradient of 3°C. Development time was significantly slower outside the current range in eastern Washington (WA), as expected because of cooler temperatures there. Slower development would reduce the number of generations possible per year outside the current range, dramatically lowering the probability that a population could survive there. Differences in survivorship, fecundity and predation rate across the range edge were not significant. The interaction between summer and winter temperature appears to be crucial in defining the current range limit. The estimated difference in temperature required to affect the number of generations is greater than the extent of summer warming observed over the past century, however, and thus historically winter temperature alone probably limited the range in southeastern WA. Nonetheless, extraordinarily warm summers may have improved colonization success, increasing the probability of a range expansion. These results suggest that extreme climatic events may influence rates of response to long-term climate change. They also demonstrate that range-limiting factors can change over time, and that the asymmetry in seasonal warming trends will have biological consequences.