Research highlight

Ecology: Effects of global warming on insect populations

Nature Communications

May 28, 2014

The distribution of insect species across Europe depends on the insects’ body colours and the environmental temperature, according to research published in Nature Communications this week. The results provide a potential means of forecasting the effects of climate change on insects.

For cold-blooded organisms, such as insects, light-coloured bodies contribute to protecting the animals from overheating. However, the effects of climate on the large-scale distribution of insects are unclear.

Dirk Zeuss and colleagues analysed wing and body colours of European butterfly and dragonfly species, and showed that dark and light colourations are indeed associated with cool and warm climates, respectively. Moreover, the authors found that the distribution of light- and dark-coloured dragonfly species shifted across Europe from 1988 to 2006, in agreement with observed changes in annual mean temperatures.

The present work sheds light onto local and global effects of climate change on ecosystems, and has implications for conservation strategies. The findings indicate that, with global warming, changes in the distribution of insect species can be predicted to a certain extent. For example, dark-coloured species would be expected to relocate to cooler regions or to modify their behaviour to inhabit more shadowed habitats.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms4874

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