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Keywords:

  • Aricia agestis;
  • butterfly;
  • climate change;
  • enemy escape;
  • parasitoids;
  • range expansion

Abstract 1. A major, and largely unexplored, uncertainty in projecting the impact of climate change on biodiversity is the consequence of altered interspecific interactions, for example between parasitoids and their hosts. The present study investigated parasitism in the Brown Argus butterfly, Aricia agestis; a species that has expanded northward in Britain during the last 30  years in association with climate warming.

2. Aricia agestis larvae suffered lower mortality from parasitoids in newly colonised areas compared with long-established populations. This result was consistent over four consecutive generations (2 years) when comparing one population of each type, and also when several populations within the historical and recently colonised range of the species were compared within a single year. Thus, A. agestis appears to be partially escaping from parasitism as it expands northwards.

3. Reduced parasitism occurred despite the fact that several of the parasitoid species associated with A. agestis were already present in the newly colonised areas, supported predominantly by an alternative host species, the Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus.

4. As the species expand their distributions into areas of increased climatic suitability, invasion fronts may escape from natural enemies, enhancing rates of range expansion. The results suggest that the decoupling of interspecific interactions may allow some species to exploit a wider range of environments and to do so more rapidly than previously thought possible.