Skip to main content


Log in

Effects of climate change on Lepidoptera pollen loads and their pollination services in space and time

  • Original Research
  • Published:
Oecologia Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Shifts in flowering time among plant communities as a result of climate change, including extreme weather events, are a growing concern. These plant phenological changes may affect the quantity and quality of food sources for specialized insect pollinators. Plant–pollinator interactions are threatened by habitat alterations and biodiversity loss, and changes in these interactions may lead to declines in flower visitors and pollination services. Most prior research has focused on short-term plant–pollinator interactions, which do not accurately capture changes in pollination services. Here, we characterized long-term plant–pollinator interactions and identified potential risks to specialized butterfly species due to habitat loss, fragmented landscapes, and changes in plant assemblages. We used 21 years of historical data from museum specimens to track the potential effects of direct and indirect changes in precipitation, temperature, monsoons, and wildfires on plant–pollinator mutualism in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada. We found decreased pollen richness associated with butterflies within sites, as well as an increase in pollen grain abundance of drought-tolerant plants, particularly in the past 10 years. Moreover, increased global temperatures and the intensity and frequency of precipitation and wildfires were negatively correlated with pollen diversity. Our findings have important implications for understanding plant–pollinator interactions and the pollination services affected by global warming.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

Supplementary data are included.

Code availability

Not applicable.


  • Aguilar R, Ashworth L, Galetto L, Aizen MA (2006) Plant reproductive susceptibility to habitat fragmentation: review and synthesis through a meta-analysis. Ecol Lett 9:968–980

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Balmaki B, Christensen T, Dyer LA (2022a) Reconstructing butterfly–pollen interaction networks through periods of anthropogenic drought in the Great Basin (USA) over the past century. Anthropocene 37:100325

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Balmaki B, Rostami MA, Christensen T, Leger EA, Allen JM, Feldman CR, Forister ML, Dyer LA (2022b) Modern approaches for leveraging biodiversity collections to understand change in plant-insect interactions. Front Ecol Evol 10:924941

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bascompte J, Jordano P (2007) Plant-animal mutualistic networks: the architecture of biodiversity. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 38:567–593

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bosch J, Martin Gonzalez AM, Navarro D (2009) Plant–pollinator networks: adding the pollinators perspective. Ecol Lett 12:409–419

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Byers DL (2017) Studying plant–pollinator interactions in a changing climate: a review of approaches Appl Plant Sci 5:Article 1700012

  • Carvell C, Westrich P, Meek WR, Pywell RF, Nowakowski M (2006) Assessing the value of annual and perennial forage mixtures for bumblebees by direct observation and pollen analysis. Apidologie 37:326–340

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Descamps C, Quinet M, Jacquemart AL (2021) The effects of drought on plant–pollinator interactions: what to expect? Environ Exp Bot 182:104297

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Dyer LA (2018) Multidimensional diversity associated with plants: a view from a plant–insect interaction ecologist. Am J Bot 105(9):1439–1442

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dyer LA, Massad TJ, Forister ML (2015) The question of scale in trophicecology. In: Hanley T, La Pierre L, (eds) Trophic ecology: bottom-up and top-down interactions across aquatic and terrestrial systems. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 288–317

  • Ferrarini A, Alatalo JM, Gervasoni D, Foggi B (2017) Exploring the compass of potential changes induced by climate warming in plant communities. Ecol Complex 29:1–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Forister ML, Halsch CA, Nice CC, Fordyce JA, Dilts TE, Oliver JC, Prudic KL, Shapiro AM, Wilson JK, Glassberg J (2021) Fewer butterflies seen by community scientists across the warming and drying landscapes of the American West. Science 371(6533):1042–1045

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Halsch CA, Shapiro AM, Fordyce JA, Nice CC, Thorne JH, Waetjen DP, Forister ML (2021) Insects and recent climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci 118(2):e2002543117

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Harrison S (2020) Plant community diversity will decline more than increase under climatic warming. Phil Trans r Soc B 375:20190106

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Harrison T, Winfree R (2015) Urban drivers of plant–pollinator interactions. Funct Ecol 29:879–888

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jones GD (2014) Pollen analyses for pollination research, acetolysis. J Pollinat Ecol 13(21):203–217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kahl SM, Lenhard M, Joshi J (2019) Compensatory mechanisms to climate change in the widely distributed species Silene vulgaris. J Ecol 107:1918–1930

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lamaoui M, Jemo M, Datla R, Bekkaoui F (2018) Heat and drought stresses in crops and approaches for their mitigation. Front Chem 6:26

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Landi P, Minoarivelo HO, Brännström Å, Hui C, Dieckmann U (2018) Complexity and stability of ecological networks: a review of the theory. Popul Ecol 60:319–345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mal TK, Lovett-Doust J (2005) Phenotypic plasticity in vegetative and reproductive traits in an invasive weed, Lythrum salicaria (Lythraceae), in response to soil moisture. Am J Bot 92:819–825

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Matthias I, Semmler MSS, Giesecke T (2015) Pollen diversity captures landscape structure and diversity. J Ecol 103:880–890

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Memmott J, Waser NM, Price MV (2004) Tolerance of pollination networks to species extinctions. Proc R Soc Lond Ser B Biol Sci 271:2605–2611

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nicholson CC, Egan PA (2020) Natural hazard threats to pollinators and pollination. Glob Change Biol 26:380–391

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Potts SG, Biesmeijer JC, Kremen C, Neumann P, Schweiger O, Kunin WE (2010) Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers. Trends Ecol Evol 25:345–353

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sambuco EN, Mark BG, Patrick N, DeGrand JQ, Porinchu DF, Reinemann SA, Baker GM, Box JE (2020) Mountain temperature changes from embedded sensors spanning 2000 m in great basin national park, 2006–2018. Front Earth Sci 8:292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schowalter TD (2006) Insect ecology: an ecosystem approach. Academic Press, Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  • Shapiro M (1996) Sierra nevada ecosystem project: final report to congress, vol. II, assessments and scientific basis for management options. University of California, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources. Center for Population Biology University of California Davis, Davis, CA. Status of Butterflies, Volume II, Chapter 27, 743–757

  • Silberbauer L, Yee M, Socorro AD, Weatten S, Gregg P, Bowie M (2004) Pollen grains as markers to track the movements of generalist predatory insects in agroecosystems. Int J Pest Manag 50:165–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singh N, Lenka R, Chatterjee P et al (2022) Settling moths are the vital component of pollination in Himalayan ecosystem of North-East India, pollen transfer network approach revealed. Sci Rep 12:2716

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Trivedi MR, Morecroft MD, Berry PM, Dawson TP (2008) Potential effects of climate change on plant communities in three montane nature reserves in Scotland. UK Biol Conserv 141(6):1665–1675

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wagner DL (2020) Insect declines in the Anthropocene. Annu Rev Entomol 65:457–480

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wagner D, Fox R, Salcido DM, Dyer LA (2021) A window to the world of global insect declines: moth biodiversity trends are complex and heterogeneous. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 118(2):e2002549117

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Wood TJ, Gibbs J, Graham KK, Isaacs R (2019) Narrow pollen diets are associated with declining Midwestern bumble bee species. Ecology 100(6):e0193822, 1–20. e02697

Download references


Our appreciation goes to the individuals who captured and gathered butterflies for the museum and the University of Nevada Reno Museum of Natural History (UNRMNH) for supporting us and giving us this opportunity to conduct this research on these invaluable collections. This work was supported by the following NSF grants: DEB 2114942, DEB 2114793, and EN 2133818.


This work was supported by the following NSF grants: DEB 2114942, DEB 2114793, and EN 2133818.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



BB wrote the manuscript, while MR and LAD conducted the data analysis. JMA and LAD  contributed to the writing and editing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Behnaz Balmaki.

Ethics declarations

Conflicts of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethics approval

Not applicable

Consent to participate

Not applicable.

Additional information

Communicated by William C. Wetzel.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (PDF 581 KB)

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Balmaki, B., Rostami, M.A., Allen, J.M. et al. Effects of climate change on Lepidoptera pollen loads and their pollination services in space and time. Oecologia 204, 751–759 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: