Climate change and bug albedo

The Orange Tip butterfly

The Orange Tip butterfly

From the Imperial College of London , something buggy, though I have to wonder if other factors aren’t involved in the range expansion, like more sunlight getting through due to less aerosols/particulates thanks to pollution controls.

Light-colored butterflies and dragonflies thriving as European climate warms

Butterflies and dragonflies with lighter colours are out-competing darker-coloured insects in the face of climate change.  

In a new study published in Nature Communications, scientists from Imperial College London, Philipps-University Marburg and University of Copenhagen have shown that as the climate warms across Europe, communities of butterflies and dragonflies consist of more lighter coloured species. Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer.

For example, several Mediterranean dragonfly species have expanded their northern range and immigrated to Germany, such as the Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis), the Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) and the Dainty Damselfly (Coenagrion scitulum). In 2010, the Dainty Damselfly was also sighted in England for the first time in over 50 years. Butterfly species that thrive in warm climates, like the Southern Small White (Pieris mannii), have dispersed to Germany during the last ten years and are still continuing their northward shift.

As with lizards and snakes, the colour of an insect’s body plays a key role in how they absorb energy from the sun, and is crucial in fuelling their flight as well as regulating their body temperature.

Dark-coloured insects are able to absorb more sunlight than light-coloured insects, in order to increase their body temperature, and are more likely to be found in cooler climates. In contrast, insects in hotter climates need to protect themselves against overheating. Light-coloured insects are more likely to be found in hotter climates as they can reflect the light to prevent overheating their body and be active for longer periods of time.

Carsten Rahbek, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London said: “For two of the major groups of insects, we have now demonstrated a direct link between climate and insect colour, which impact their geographical distribution.”

“We now know that lighter-coloured butterflies and dragonflies are doing better in a warmer world, and we have also demonstrated that the effects of climate change on where species live are not something of the future, but that nature and its ecosystems are changing as we speak,” concluded Professor Rahbek, who is also Director of the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. To identify whether colour lightness was correlated to temperature, the scientists combined digital image analysis, which scanned and measured colour values of butterfly and dragonfly wings and bodies, with distributional data which mapped where in Europe the species are found.

They looked at 366 butterfly species and 107 dragonfly species across Europe, and showed a clear pattern of light-coloured insects dominating the warmer south of Europe and darker insects dominating the cooler north.

To test whether a warming climate had caused any shifts, they looked at changes in species distributions over an 18-year period from 1988-2006. Results showed that on average insects were becoming lighter in colour, and that darker-coloured insects were shifting towards the cooler areas in Western margins of Europe, the Alps and the Balkans.

Research has previously suggested that climate change is having an impact on the distribution of species, but this study provides evidence of a direct link and confirms basic assumptions about how changes in the climate can affect patterns of biodiversity.

Lead author Dirk Zeuss from Philipps-University Marburg in Germany said: “When studying biodiversity, we lack general rules about why certain species occur where they do. With this research we’ve been able to show that butterfly and dragonfly species across Europe are distributed according to their ability to regulate heat through their colour variation. Until now we could only watch the massive changes in the insect fauna during the last 20 years. Now we have an idea of what could be a strong cause of the changes.”

###

The paper:

Zeuss, D et al. 2014. ‘Global Warming favours light-coloured insects in Europe’. Nature Communications, 27 May 2014.

Under Strict Embargo – Tuesday 27 May 2014, 1600 BST / 1100 US Eastern Time

Once embargo has lifted, the paper can be downloaded at : http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NCOMMS4874 Please note this is an uncorrected proof of the paper.

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53 thoughts on “Climate change and bug albedo

  1. “Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer.”

    Why are they “retreating” , I’d say they are taking advantage and expanding.

    At least with a title like Nature Communications, we know they are not doing science. It’s “communication”. aka PR and propaganda.

  2. Actually this has to be another classic of uncontrolled variables. This more like sociology , more “soft science” based of soft, malleable data.

  3. That’s funny. I thought back fifty years ago they were showing that insects were trending toward darker colors as protective coloration due to the soot from pollution covering surfaces. Maybe with that cleared up thanks to scrubbers they are reverting to lighter colors.

  4. Its payback time I guess. Back in the days of soot belching factory chimneys in the industrial north of Europe the tree trunks and buildings darkened leading to dark coloured moths and butterflies being better camoflaged from predators than their paler cousins. Now its the paler ones we are helping via our CO2 belching ways…poor butterflies don’t know whether to stick or twist. Our children may never see a dark coloured fluttery thing again. How do Dragonflies and butterflies handle wind turbines/solar farms I wonder?

  5. Did they control for air quality? A major factor in color distribution is predation. So, for example, in Great Britain during the Industrial revolution dark colored insects thrived because they blended better into the sooty background. Now lighter colored insects are again more prevalent. Is the color shift a rebound from the Industrial revolution, much the way that temperatures are rebounding from the little Ice age?

  6. “but that nature and its ecosystems are changing as we speak,” concluded Professor Rahbek, who is also Director of the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. ”

    It’s really amazing what science can reveal /sarc.

  7. This is the sort of heifer dust that makes me wonder if anyone is doing real science anymore. They think it all has to be “warming” or lack of same. Can not be anything else! These are stupid people.

  8. Soooo, the last 8 years or so of their sample period had no warming. What color did they change to during that time?

    Next up, you can tell the temperature via the color of your butterfly. No thermometers required. /sarc

    Reminds me of the Biblical Weather video!

    Video redacted because I am being lazy today :-)

  9. Oh great…. Let’s spend $3.2 quadrillion (50-to-1 Project estimate) to make sure butterflies have the politically correct wing color…

  10. Peer says :
    “That’s funny. I thought back fifty years ago they were showing that insects were trending toward darker colors as protective coloration due to the soot from pollution covering surfaces.”
    Actually, I believe it was first noted right after the industrial age provied for very sooty city surfaces (somewhat before and after the turn of the century in 1900) -it was noted that in a few short years, only moths whose color closely matched the soot covered tree trunks, etc, were still around. The lighter colored moths had been far too easily seen by predators when most surfaces became dark and sooty. This was used as an example proving Darwin’s selectivity theory.

  11. Considering the effects of albedo (actually, more precisely, color) on the visibility of insects to their predators, there is obviously another independent variable at work here (There may be more that I can’t think of). This is a perfect example of the weakness of natural experiments, where the independent variables cannot be controlled. Any dependent variable change could have been the result of who knows how many independent variables.

  12. This must be Gaia trying to maintain Earth’s temperature by increasing the albedo.

    I remember that light/dark soot connection from a long time ago first in some childhood science book and later in many other sources. Nice to see so many people here remember it.

  13. Bugs are not neutral. The want to hide or the want to be seen. A bug that that increases its relative albedo is happier being seen more easily. Finding mates has become harder -more shade or cloud – or less predation.

    Warmer makes brighter fails the snifg test.

  14. I read the paper before commenting. The species distribution finding seems robust. Darker species in cooler climes, lighter species in warmer climes. For both butterflies and dragon flies.
    The climate change finding is a statistical joke on a par with Dessler’s positive cloud feedback finding in 2010. Fit an OLS trend through a shotgun pattern, find it goes up a tiny bit, and voila! Climate change. But the r2 ( not given) is close to zero. The result is essentially meaningless. As was Dessler’s, even before Steve Mac eviscerated the methodology used to concoct Dessler’s feeble result.
    Shame that they took a major interesting finding about ectothermic species adaptation and had to pollute it with a garbagy climate change addendum.

  15. is this like that study a few years ago that stated that warming in the SW US was causing a certain type of bush to move its range north? it turned out that this noteworthy move to escape the increasing heat what a whopping 150-200m

  16. Wow, I had always thought something much different and now I realize how utterly, mind numbingly, stupid I was. I had always thought that brightly colored, and colorful, poisonous creatures such as wasps, bees, poison arrow frogs, Gila monsters, and the like, were colored that way as an instinctual warning to predators. And, that darker, bland colored creatures, that didn’t have the virtually unbeatable weapon of poison (or, the IRS), were colored that way so they wouldn’t advertise themselves as a potential meal. Thank god for tax funded climatology, and tax funded climatologists, I now know that it was really climate all along. Everything is about climate. Everything. And everything about climate is CO2. Everything.

  17. I know this paper falls under the yawn category but has anyone read the methods section? Am I reading correctly that they compared digitally analyzed insects to illustrations of the insects in order to conjure up that a color change has taken place among all of these hundreds of species of insects?

  18. More likely this is just a reverse of industrial melanism. The midlands of the UK and Central Europe are no longer sooty and dirty. No more dirty coal. No more blast furnaces. No more soot blackened brick buildings and smokestacks. That’s all in China now.

  19. In every case, every case, changes in landscape, populations dynamics and natural cycles can explain the supposed climate change. There is a group of butterflies the Whites that are greatly affected by changes in agriculture and the weedy spread of plants in the mustard family. The cabbage butterfly was accidentally introduced into North America from Europe. There example of the “Southern Small White (Pieris mannii), have dispersed to Germany during the last ten years and are still continuing their northward shift” most likely can be explained by other factors.

    Whenever a range changes in the past ecologists first asked what allows animals to disperse. Now that is never examined and papers spam the literature suggesting climate change magically moved them.

  20. Butterflies and dragonflies with lighter colours are out-competing darker-coloured insects in the face of climate change.

    Birds chop what they can easily see I guess. That is the competition?

    Here is the Peppered Moth? A moth that basically ‘evolved’ from patchy light and dark grey to ‘black’ due to England’s industrial revolution.

    Abstract – 2008
    Evolution in reverse: clean air and the peppered moth
    Between 1848 and 1895 the melanic form f carbonaria of the peppered moth increased in Manchester from 0 to 98%. The reverse process is now occurring in one locality in Memyside where a year-to-year survey has shown that the pale form f. typica has increased from 6 to 30% between 1959 and 1984. Supporting information also comes from two studies in N Wales. The Clean Air Acts and the consequent decline in air pollution levels are probably responsible but there are many ill–understood problems, not the least being how, and the extent to which, non-visual selection operates.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1095-8312.1985.tb01555.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

  21. Robert Turner, they scanned actual species exemplars to color and grey scale code them. That gives a very precise estimate of ‘lighteness’ to darkness of Real bugs by species.

  22. Bert Walker says:
    “So how much has Europe actually warmed in the past 18 years?”

    Depends a bit on what exact years you look at but somewhere between half and one degree centigrade.

  23. In 2010, the Dainty Damselfly was also sighted in England for the first time in over 50 years.

    So 50 years ago there was a climate change range shift problem?

  24. jim Steele says:
    May 27, 2014 at 11:16 am

    The Small White (Pieris rapae) is a pest here in Umatilla County, OR. It spread along with yellow & purple mustard weeds, but is of agricultural concern now that rape seed for canola oil is grown here. If only starlings ate them, those invasive birds might be of some value. As it is, all those introduced pests do is drive off indigenous “robins”.

  25. The flutter-bye and other insect colouration is more about
    camouflage as protection from predators than about keeping
    them warm. Climate change as in less cloud cover, more
    sunlight is more likely to be a controlling factor along with
    pollution controls making their habitual resting surfaces
    cleaner and brighter.

    Was any correlation made with the paint colour fashions for
    buildings in the survey areas over the last couple of decades?
    No, of course not.

  26. To test whether a warming climate had caused any shifts, they looked at changes in species distributions over an 18-year period from 1988-2006.

    The paper was published 27 May 2014. Did they have data on “changes in species distributions” for 2007 to 2012? Or did they not have enough time? That’s six or seven years they need to follow up on.

  27. I thought that global warming just killed everything. Now they are saying organisms adapt to changing conditions?

    ““We now know that lighter-coloured butterflies and dragonflies are doing better in a warmer world…”

    Sigh – they just had to play the race card.

  28. To test whether a warming climate had caused any shifts, they looked at changes in species distributions over an 18-year period from 1988-2006.

    Did our butterfly and dragonfly species notice?

    Date of Entry Into Force 16/03/1983
    Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution (Geneva Convention 1979)
    The following 8 Protocols have been adopted to date. The Community is party to all 8:
    EUROPA
    =============

    Date of Entry Into Force 28/01/1988
    Protocol to the 1979 Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution on long-term financing of the cooperative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe (EMEP)……….

    This Protocol supplements the Geneva Convention 1979 which is aimed at protecting man and his environment against air pollution and endeavours to limit, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution including long-range transboundary pollution. The Protocol on Long-Term Financing of the Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP) was adopted in 1984 and entered into force in 1988.
    EUROPA

  29. Furthermore, a number of Eastern European countries have had to clean up their acts to get into the European Union.

  30. This article is just about content free. IMHO, this article shows only that the journal will publish anything that suggests climate alarm.

    Others have pointed out the huge problems in the article. I would just like to say that Darwin would note that butterflies and such creatures cannot respond to climate changes or climate differences unless maybe they are viewers of the BBC.

  31. only climate change can make the same place warmer and cooler at the same time….

    “. Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer.”

  32. The peppered moth phenomenon (Jimbo above) was well-known. I remember it from UK school biology lessons around ’63-4, including the reversal to less dark, eg only 6 years after Clean Air legislation kicked in.
    Light – hot, dark – cool? Bunk. Here at 19°S it is HOT most of the time compared to temperate locations. Clear skies are common and insolation is often around 625W/m2. We have numerous species of butterfly that are large and substantially black coloured, with white, yellow, green, blue markings. Swallowtails, Birdwings, Ulysses, Hercules. Nothing to do with albedo. Butterfly flight is mostly to do with seeking a mate. Resting occurs in shade or with wings held folded, eg less exposed. Here, anything you see motionless with its wings spread is probably dead.
    [Rud] “they scanned actual species exemplars to color and grey scale code them. That gives a very precise estimate of ‘lighteness’ to darkness of Real bugs by species.” LOL. Reducing something like a common swallowtail to a greyscale value is totally absurd, but it is reassuring in a way. This was probably all done indoors. These people would not be safe going out on their own.

  33. From the abstract:

    Insects absorb energy from the sun to become mobile, and their colouration varies depending on the prevailing climate where they live.

    A harmless statement as far as it goes.

    But although they don’t say it, I’m taking a guess that they might be relieved to learn that carbon dioxide doesn’t absorb sunlight (ie visible light). Nor do I suppose that CO2 will change the lapse rate much across the thickness of a pretty butterfly’s wing.

  34. arthur4563 says:
    May 27, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Considering the effects of albedo (actually, more precisely, color) on the visibility of insects to their predators, there is obviously another independent variable at work here (There may be more that I can’t think of).
    —————–

    Right you are, there are several independent variables that can cause an adaptive “color change” within a given species. And it is most often noted in some species of insects simply because of their extremely high reproduction rate (# of eggs per individual) and extremely short life span.

    For example, the “life expectancy” of a Monarch butterfly is “migration” dependent. When the Monarchs start their yearly migration north out of Mexico their “life span” is like 2 to 6 weeks. But when their 3rd or 4th generation descendants start their migration south to Mexico their “life span” is like 7 to 9 months.

    Thus said, multiple “new” generations within a 4 or 5 month time frame can easily cause an adaptive “color change” within the species simply because of “survival of the fittest” ….. regardless of what said “fittest” entails be it food source, predator, temperature, moisture, habitat, etc.

    But, the overwhelming majority of insects do not migrate to and from more northern latitudes, ….. they hibernate. They hibernate “in place” during the northern winter months in either their adult, larval or egg form and when the warm summer temperatures return they emerge and their reproduction cycle begins anew …… which includes “short” migrations to “new places” in search of food sources, nesting sights, etc., …. but not the amount of “daily sunshine” on the back sides of an insect.

    Anyway, what the above study proves, if anything, is what I have been claiming for the past 20 years. That it’s not the “junk science” of CAGW that is causing an increase in the average summer time temperatures …… because the average summer time temperatures have not been increasing. It is the average winter time temperatures, … stupid, …… that are increasing.

    And whenever the average winter time temperatures are increasing in any given “place” ….. then the “survival rate” of the aforesaid hibernating “in place” insects is greatly increased …… and said “greater numbers” pretty much insures the fact that their offspring will migrate farther northwest, north and/or northeast to “new places” in their quest to survive.

    The greatest threat to the survival of an insect species is their ability to survive their “period of hibernation”.

  35. Latitude says:
    May 27, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    only climate change can make the same place warmer and cooler at the same time….

    “. Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer.”

    Nice catch…

    Frankly, Since the paper is written by Dr. Zeuss I was expecting something different, with rhyme, in verse and with a moral at the end.

  36. We know that butterflies practice mimicry to avoid predation. More basically they practice camouflage. The time of year and hour of day they emerge are temperature dependent, and can be adjusted according to climate. The dorsal and ventral sides of their wings are of different shades so that they may regulate internal temperature when still by either folding or stretching their wings. They only eat in the larval stage, so that food availability would be a more significant factor than the time of spring warming.

    Any variation in shade by latitude could be far better explained as camouflage response to boreal forestation than by thermoregulation–Spanish deserts versus Finnish forests. Color me skeptical. –AGF

  37. Yet more evidence life thrives in warmer climates?

    But then again they say this has happened in the “last 10 years”. What warming is that then?

  38. I know, that doesn’t belong to this thread; Mr. Watts: take it or leave it: thanks for hostage.

    B.Tisdale, I think, in 2012 drew that graph comparing economic groth and co2 rising /correct me if I’m wrong/. Swell Idea.

    Until 2008 both rose – abrupt decline in 2008.

    So – since the mid 90’s in Europe every July, August, Sept, … we had records of severe forest fires in spain, southern france, cypris …and so on. Smoke lingering over Europe, heavy rise in CO2 : catastropic global warming!

    When cooled, the deforested areas where crowded by constructing machines:

    New tourist ressorts, useles highways in spain leading to nowhere, … with sponsoring by the EU.

    When Putin wanted a new highway circling Moskow – citicens of Moskau fought for their near forests, recreation areas:

    Moscowit forests burned for weeks, smoke lingering…

    Catastrophic global warming!

    Economic discussions where heavy with ‘deregulation of financial marcets’, physicians programmed algorythms for ‘Leerverkäufe’, glass steagele act was already dismantled /correct me if I’m wrong/.

    With 2008, with Leeman brothers, crushing of the Immobilien marcet:

    Where’s the smoke clouding Europe/USA?

    Where is Catastrophic Global Warming?

    brg – Hans

  39. Tinkering about with nonsense doesn’t work.
    My advise to the authors is to read the work of René Descartes (1596 -1650) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Descartes If they had read Descartes they first would have questioned the basic data they use for their “research” which now has become a self fulfilling prophecy based on a consensus confirming non existent Global Warming. in other words, their work is useless bull shit, plain nonsense with the single and only objective to keep the AGW Hoax alive.

    Screw you.

  40. I have not read the paper, but as several here suggested, a few tenths of a degree itself would be a insignificant forcing. As Rud Istvan said, “Shame that they took a major interesting finding about ectothermic species adaptation and had to pollute it with a garbagy climate change addendum.”

    The authors apparently do not consider the essential requirements for butterfly and dragonfly species survival, which like other species, is habitat that provides adequate food and shelter. The most important requirement for butterflies is existence of host plants for the caterpillar stage.
    Most butterflies are specialists; few or only a single plant species is the host plant- the specialized food source for the caterpillar of that butterfly species. Changes in butterfly distribution correlate well with changes of their host plant distribution. Again, a few tenths of a degree would be an insignificant forcing for changes in host plant distribution and have, at most, a very minor effect at the margins such as moving the distribution of a species 50′ up a mountain or a few miles northward. Rainfall is probably more important. Here in the U.S. where I’m familiar with butterfly distributions, there has been an anthropogenic forcing that is important- the use of herbicides (instead of cutting) to control plant growth along roads and power line right-aways. Is this happening in Europe? This is eliminating host plants along edge habitat where most insect, bird and other predator species either live or frequent.

    Dragonflies are predators with aquatic larvae and a very different life cycle, but again a few tenths of a degree temperature change is insignificant compared to the availability of insect food sources and unpolluted water where their larvae grow. I’ll not write more about dragonflies except to say that some species, like species of butterflies, birds, and other critters have been moving south. I have been seeing one of them near my house every day, the Tree Swallow which is now a fairly common breeding species here in SC where I live.

    As has been known for over a century, there is one, only one, really important threat to to the viability of the flora and and fauna species we value. Yes, introduced species have been the cause of extinctions on islands, and a couple of species died out do to sport shooting. Willis Eschenbach has written about this on WUWT. However, habitat destruction (such as broadcasting herbicides along roads and power line right-aways) is, as always, the real threat. The green’s obsession with global warming, and the many scientific papers such as this one obscure rather than elucidate ecological understanding. Not only climate science, but the biological sciences and the traditional conservation movement are casualties of the CO2/global warming obsession.
    Some butterfly, moth, and other species are photographed and discussed here-

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolinabutterflies/

  41. Doug Allen says:
    May 27, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    However, habitat destruction (such as broadcasting herbicides along roads and power line right-aways) is, as always, the real threat.
    ————–

    Right you are, …… and the “worst of the worst” habitat destruction occurs along railroad right-aways …… simply because they pretty much saturate the ground along side the tracks with herbicides ….. and the creosote leeches out of the track ties adding “insult to injury” …. and the FACT that the majority of all railroad tracks are constructed along side of and/or in close proximity to creeks, streams and rivers …. thus permitting the herbicides, etc. to flow or leech directly into the waterways thus causing havoc with the “reproduction cycle” of amphibians, etc.

  42. tttt,
    the graphic you referenced showed “Global Temp” was 0.5 degrees elevation in past 30-40 years.
    ut, the study referenced European temps over the past 18 years. The reality is the temps didn’t change much, in fact may have cooled an insignificant amount.
    I guess the authors forgot to check the past 18 year temp record for Europe before ascribing their observations to “warming.”
    Overall any freshman college student writing this article would get a failing grade for lack of documentation, lack of consideration of the many of other possible reasons for the observations, lack of statistical significance, etc……

  43. One should not ascribe too much credibility to the “fuzzy math” calculations of “average temperatures” ….. or ….. the “percent” increase or decrease in “average temperatures”.

    If one does then they are only deluding themselves into believing something that is not based in/on actual factual science.

    The “results” of the above noted calculations are only worthwhile for use as “reference data” and should not, under any circumstances, be cited as proof or evidence of a scientific nature.

    “Averages” are nothing more than abstract non-quantitative values that serve only to denote “a reference point in time”.

  44. Bert Walker,
    I obviously meant the graph showing European temp during the period and not global. And it has warmed during the period in Europe as you can see from the graph.

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