Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Moth study suggests hidden climate change impacts

15.04.2014

A 32-year study of subarctic forest moths in Finnish Lapland suggests that scientists may be underestimating the impacts of climate change on animals and plants because much of the harm is hidden from view.

The study analyzed populations of 80 moth species and found that 90 percent of them were either stable or increasing throughout the study period, from 1978 to 2009. During that time, average annual temperatures at the study site rose 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter precipitation increased as well.

"You see it getting warmer, you see it getting wetter and you see that the moth populations are either staying the same or going up. So you might think, 'Great. The moths like this warmer, wetter climate.' But that's not what's happening,'' said ecologist Mark Hunter of the University of Michigan.

Hunter used advanced statistical techniques to examine the roles of different ecological forces affecting the moth populations and found that warmer temperatures and increased precipitation reduced the rates of population growth.

"Every time the weather was particularly warm or particularly wet, it had a negative impact on the rates at which the populations grew," said Hunter, the Henry A. Gleason Collegiate Professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

"Yet, overall, most of these moth populations are either stable or increasing, so the only possibility is that something else other than climate change—some other factor that we did not measure—is buffering the moths from substantial population reductions and masking the negative effects of climate change."

The findings have implications that reach beyond moths in Lapland.

If unknown ecological forces are helping to counteract the harmful effects of climate change on these moths, it's conceivable that a similar masking of impacts is happening elsewhere. If that's the case, then scientists are likely underestimating the harmful effects of climate change on animals and plants, Hunter said.

"We could be underestimating the number of species for which climate change has negative impacts because those effects are masked by other forces," he said.

Hunter and six Finnish colleagues report their findings in a paper scheduled for online publication April 15 in the journal Global Change Biology.

The study was conducted at the Värriö Strict Nature Reserve, 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle and less than four miles from the Finnish-Russian border. The nearest major road is more than 60 miles away.

Between 1978 and 2009, Finnish scientists used light traps at night to catch 388,779 moths from 456 species. Eighty of the most abundant species were then analyzed.

Hunter used a statistical technique called time series analysis to examine how various ecological forces, including climate, affected per capita population growth.

Scientists want to know how climate change will impact insects because the six-legged creatures play key roles as agricultural pests, pollinators, food sources for vertebrates, vectors of human disease, and drivers of various ecosystem processes.

Researchers believe that butterflies and moths may be particularly susceptible to population fluctuations in response to climate change—especially at high latitudes and high elevations.

Most recent studies of moth abundance have shown population declines. So Hunter and his colleagues were surprised to find that 90 percent of the moth species in the Lapland study were either stable or increasing.

On one level, the results can be viewed as a good news climate story: In the face of a rapid environmental change, these moths appear to be thriving, suggesting that they are more resilient than scientists had expected, Hunter said.

But the other side of that coin is that unknown ecological forces appear to be buffering the harmful effects of climate change and hiding those impacts from view. The results also demonstrate that "simple temporal changes in population abundance cannot always be used to estimate effects of climate change on the dynamics of organisms," the authors conclude.

"The big unknown is how long this buffering effect will last," Hunter said. "Will it keep going indefinitely, or will the negative effects of climate change eventually just override these buffers, causing the moth populations to collapse?"

Another big unknown: What ecological forces are currently buffering the Lapland moths from the negative effects of a warming climate?

Finnish team members who've been collecting moths at the Värriö reserve for decades say they have noticed a gradual increase in tree and shrub density, increased rates of tree growth, and a rise in the altitude of the tree line.

Trees provide food and shelter for moths, and leaf litter offers overwintering sites and resting areas away from predators. Perhaps the observed vegetation changes are helping to offset the negative effects of warmer temperatures and increased precipitation. That possibility was not analyzed in the current study.

###

Hunter's co-authors on the Global Change Biology paper are Finnish researchers Mikhail Kozlov, Juhani Itämies, Erkki Pulliainen, Jaana Bäck, Ella-Maria Kyrö and Pekka Niemelä.

The work was supported by a Strategic Research Grant from the University of Turku and the Nordic Centre of Excellence Tundra, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Academy of Finland Center of Excellence and the Nordic Center of Excellence CRAICC.

Jim Erickson | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

Further reports about: Biology Lapland ecological moth moths populations species temperatures

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Fruit fly studies shed light on adaptability of nerve cells
17.04.2015 | Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE)

nachricht Rare monkey photographed in Congo's newest national park, Ntokou-Pikounda
17.04.2015 | Wildlife Conservation Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Astronomers reveal supermassive black hole's intense magnetic field

Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy

Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a...

Im Focus: A “pin ball machine” for atoms and photons

A team of physicists from MPQ, Caltech, and ICFO proposes the combination of nano-photonics with ultracold atoms for simulating quantum many-body systems and creating new states of matter.

Ultracold atoms in the so-called optical lattices, that are generated by crosswise superposition of laser beams, have been proven to be one of the most...

Im Focus: UV light robot to clean hospital rooms could help stop spread of 'superbugs'

Can a robot clean a hospital room just as well as a person?

According to new research out of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, that is indeed the case. Chetan Jinadatha, M.D., M.P.H., assistant...

Im Focus: Graphene pushes the speed limit of light-to-electricity conversion

Researchers from ICFO, MIT and UC Riverside have been able to develop a graphene-based photodetector capable of converting absorbed light into an electrical voltage at ultrafast timescales

The efficient conversion of light into electricity plays a crucial role in many technologies, ranging from cameras to solar cells.

Im Focus: Study shows novel pattern of electrical charge movement through DNA

Electrical charges not only move through wires, they also travel along lengths of DNA, the molecule of life. The property is known as charge transport.

In a new study appearing in the journal Nature Chemistry, authors, Limin Xiang, Julio Palma, Christopher Bruot and others at Arizona State University's...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HHL's Entrepreneurship Conference on FinTech

13.04.2015 | Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineer Improves Rechargeable Batteries with MoS2 Nano 'Sandwich'

17.04.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Comparing Climate Models to Real World Shows Differences in Precipitation Intensity

17.04.2015 | Earth Sciences

A blueprint for clearing the skies of space debris

17.04.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>