There is now ample evidence that warming temperatures cause advances in the timing of organismal activity (i.e., phenology). Studies have shown that rising temperatures are responsible for earlier plant leafing and flowering (Miller-Rushing & Primack 2008, Wolkovich et al. 2012), pest insect emergence and abundance (Willis et al. 2008), and even local species loss and reduced diversity (Willis et al. 2008). One emerging expectation from global warming studies is that insects should emerge earlier since winters are milder and spring temperatures are warmer. This expectation should hold so long as high temperatures or other environmental stressors don’t adversely affect the insects. And the concern about shifts in emergence and insect activity is the potential for mismatches between plant flowering and the availability of pollinators (Willmer 2012) –if insects emerge too soon, they may miss the flowers.
Photo by Marc Cadotte
In a forthcoming paper in Ecology by Sarah Diamond and colleagues study 20 common butterfly species across more than 80 sites in Ohio. These sites were located in a range of places across a rural to urban gradient. Instead of finding earlier emergence in warmer places, which were typically urban areas, they found that a number of species were delayed in warmer urban areas. Even though the butterflies might emerge earlier in warmer rural habitats, they were adversely affected in urbanized areas.
These results highlight the need to consider multiple sources of stress from different types of environmental change. Observations from a few locales or from controlled experiments may not lead to conclusions about interactive influences or warming and urbanization, and that's why this study is so important. It observes a counter-intuitive result because of the influence of multiple stressors.
A next step should be to determine if pollinator-plant interactions are being disrupted in these urban areas. The reason why we should care so much about pollinator emergence is that they provide a key ecological service by pollinator wild, garden, and agricultural plants, as well has being an important food source to other species. A mismatch in timing and disrupt these important interactions.
Diamond S.E., Cayton H., Wepprich T., Jenkins C.N., Dunn R.R., Haddad N.M. & Ries L. (2014). Unexpected phenological responses of butterflies to the interaction of urbanization and geographic temperature. Ecology.
Miller-Rushing A.J. & Primack R.B. (2008). Global warming and flowering times in Thoreau's Concord: a community perspective Ecology, 89, 332-341.
Roos J., Hopkins R., Kvarnheden A. & Dixelius C. (2011). The impact of global warming on plant diseases and insect vectors in Sweden. Eur J Plant Pathol, 129, 9-19.
Willis C.G., Ruhfel B., Primack R.B., Miller-Rushing A.J. & Davis C.C. (2008). Phylogenetic patterns of species loss in Thoreau's woods are driven by climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 17029-17033.
Willmer P. (2012). Ecology: pollinator-plant synchrony tested by climate change. Curr. Biol., 22, R131-R132.
Wolkovich E.M., Cook B.I., Allen J.M., Crimmins T.M., Betancourt J.L., Travers S.E., Pau S., Regetz J., Davies T.J., Kraft N.J.B., Ault T.R., Bolmgren K., Mazer S.J., McCabe G.J., McGill B.J., Parmesan C., Salamin N., Schwartz M.D. & Cleland E.E. (2012). Warming experiments underpredict plant phenological responses to climate change. Nature, 485, 494-497.
Diamond, S., Cayton, H., Wepprich, T., Jenkins, C., Dunn, R., Haddad, N., & Ries, L. (2014). Unexpected phenological responses of butterflies to the interaction of urbanization and geographic temperature Ecology DOI: 10.1890/13-1848.1