Pudding Seminar: Esme Ashe-Jepson (MCR), ‘Thermoregulatory ability versus thermal tolerance in tropical butterflies: alternative strategies to cope with climate change’

Climate change poses a severe threat to many taxa, with increased mean temperatures and frequency of extreme weather events predicted. Insects respond to non-optimal temperatures using behaviours or local microclimates to thermoregulate (thermal buffering ability), or through physiological tolerance. We studied the thermal buffering ability and thermal tolerance of a community of 54 tropical butterfly species in Panama. Thermal buffering ability and tolerance were influenced by taxonomic family, size, and colour, with Pieridae, large, and dark butterflies having the strongest thermal buffering ability, and with Hesperiidae, small, and dark butterflies tolerating the highest temperatures. We identified an interaction between thermal buffering ability and physiological tolerance, where species with stronger thermal buffering abilities had lower thermal tolerance, and vice versa. This interaction implies that most species will be vulnerable to climate change to an extent, considering that species appear to adapt to one strategy at the expense of the other.

Esme is a fourth year PhD student working on butterflies and how to conserve them under climate change. She is a part of the Insect Ecology Group, in the Zoology department of Cambridge. She did her undergraduate degree in Conservation Biology and Ecology at the University of Exeter (with a year at Monash University, Australia), and her Masters by Research at UCL in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation. Her current work in her PhD is done in collaboration with multiple partners, including the Wildlife Trust in the UK to improve evidence-led conservation of butterflies in British nature reserves, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to better understand how tropical butterflies will respond to climate change.

All staff, students, and senior members are very warmly invited to attend the Pudding Seminars. Talks usually last between 20-25 minutes, followed by time for questions, comments and discussion before we finish at 1.50pm, to allow people to get to 2pm appointments. Please note that coffee and cake will be available from 1 o’clock with the seminar starting promptly at 1.15pm. Details of all our seminars can be found at: https://www.newn.cam.ac.uk/research/pudding-seminars/forthcoming-pudding-seminars/