Adapting to Climate Change
Modern Caterpillars Feed at Higher Temperatures in Response to Climate Change
Dec. 19, 2013 —
Caterpillars of two species of butterflies in Colorado and California have evolved to feed rapidly at higher temperatures and at a broader range of temperatures over the past 40 years, suggesting that they are evolving quickly to cope with a hotter, more variable climate.
The work, led by Joel Kingsolver at UNC-Chapel Hill, represents a rare instance of how recent climate change affects physiological traits, such as how the body regulates feeding behavior.
"To our knowledge, this is the first instance where we show changes in physiological traits in response to recent climate change," says Kingsolver, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Biology in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences, whose work appears today in the journal Functional Ecology.
Caterpillars can eat and grow only when it's not too cold and not too hot, explains Kingsolver. But when temperatures are ideal, caterpillars eat with reckless abandon and can gain up to 20 percent of their body weight in an hour. That growth determines their ability to survive, how quickly they become adult butterflies and their ultimate reproductive success.