Spring Phenology of Butterflies : The role of seasonal variation in life-cycle regulation

Abstract: Animals and plants in temperate regions must adapt their life cycle to pronounced seasonal variation. The research effort that has gone into studying these cyclical life history events, or phenological traits, has increased greatly in recent decades. As phenological traits are often correlated to temperature, they are relevant to study in terms of understanding the effect of short term environmental variation as well as long term climate change. Because of this, changes in phenology are the most obvious and among the most commonly reported responses to climate change. Moreover, phenological traits are important for fitness as they determine the biotic and abiotic environment an individual encounters. Fine-tuning of phenology allows for synchronisation at a local scale to mates, food resources and appropriate weather conditions. On a between-population scale, variation in phenology may reflect regional variation in climate. Such differences can not only give insights to life cycle adaptation, but also to how populations may respond to environmental change through time. This applies both on an ecological scale through phenotypic plasticity as well as an evolutionary scale through genetic adaptation. In this thesis I have used statistical and experimental methods to investigate both the larger geographical patterns as well as mechanisms of fine-tuning of phenology of several butterfly species. The main focus, however, is on the orange tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, in Sweden and the United Kingdom. I show a contrasting effect of spring temperature and winter condition on spring phenology for three out of the five studied butterfly species. For A. cardamines there are population differences in traits responding to these environmental factors between and within Sweden and the UK that suggest adaptation to local environmental conditions. All populations show a strong negative plastic relationship between spring temperature and spring phenology, while the opposite is true for winter cold duration. Spring phenology is shifted earlier with increasing cold duration. The environmental variables show correlations, for example, during a warm year a short winter delays phenology while a warm spring speeds phenology up. Correlations between the environmental variables also occur through space, as the locations that have long winters also have cold springs. The combined effects of these two environmental variables cause a complex geographical pattern of phenology across the UK and Sweden. When predicting phenology with future climate change or interpreting larger geographical patterns one must therefore have a good enough understanding of how the phenology is controlled and take the relevant environmental factors in to account. In terms of the effect of phenological change, it should be discussed with regards to change in life cycle timing among interacting species. For example, the phenology of the host plants is important for A. cardamines fitness, and it is also the main determining factor for oviposition. In summary, this thesis shows that the broad geographical pattern of phenology of the butterflies is formed by counteracting environmental variables, but that there also are significant population differences that enable fine-tuning of phenology according to the seasonal progression and variation at the local scale.