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Climate effects on late-season flight times of Massachusetts butterflies

Abstract

Although the responses of living organisms to climate change are being widely investigated, little attention has been given to such effects late in the growing season. We studied the late-season flight times of 20 species of butterflies in a geographically limited region, the state of Massachusetts in the USA, by examining change in dates of flight over a 22-year period and in response to average monthly temperature and precipitation. By analyzing the last 10% of each year’s observations reported by observers of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club, we found that seven species remain in flight significantly later into the fall than they did two decades earlier, while two species show reduced late-season flight. Life history characteristics of the species, particularly voltinism and average fall flight dates, influenced whether warmer fall months led to increases or decreases in fall flight. Warmer Novembers often led to later fall flight, and wetter Augusts usually extended fall flight. These results document the effects of climate on late-season flight times of butterflies, add to an understanding of how warmer autumn conditions alter the phenology of different butterfly species, and show the usefulness of citizen science data.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the many members of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club for their extensive records of butterfly flight, and we thank Colleen Hitchcock for the discussion in planning the study. We are especially grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their comments that improved the manuscript and to Chris Briggs for statistical advice and assistance.

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Correspondence to E. H. Williams.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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All work reported in this study complies with the laws of the USA.

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This article does not contain any experimentation with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Zipf, L., Williams, E.H., Primack, R.B. et al. Climate effects on late-season flight times of Massachusetts butterflies. Int J Biometeorol 61, 1667–1673 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-017-1347-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-017-1347-8

Keywords

  • Phenology
  • Autumn
  • Voltinism
  • Warming
  • Citizen science