Predicting the sensitivity of butterfly phenology to temperature over the past century



Studies to date have documented substantial variation among species in the degree to which phenology responds to temperature and shifts over time, but we have a limited understanding of the causes of such variation. Here, we use a spatially and temporally extensive data set (ca. 48 000 observations from across Canada) to evaluate the utility of museum collection records in detecting broad-scale phenology-temperature relationships and to test for systematic differences in the sensitivity of phenology to temperature (days °C−1) of Canadian butterfly species according to relevant ecological traits. We showed that the timing of flight season predictably responded to temperature both across space (variation in average temperature from site to site in Canada) and across time (variation from year to year within each individual site). This reveals that collection records, a vastly underexploited resource, can be applied to the quantification of broad-scale relationships between species' phenology and temperature. The timing of the flight season of earlier fliers and less mobile species was more sensitive to temperature than later fliers and more mobile species, demonstrating that ecological traits can account for some of the interspecific variation in species' phenological sensitivity to temperature. Finally, we found that phenological sensitivity to temperature differed across time and space implying that both dimensions of temperature will be needed to translate species' phenological sensitivity to temperature into accurate predictions of species' future phenological shifts. Given the widespread temperature sensitivity of flight season timing, we can expect long-term temporal shifts with increased warming [ca. 2.4 days °C−1 (0.18 SE)] for many if not most butterfly species.