Ecology Letters (2012) 15: 502–508
Weather drives population dynamics directly, through effects on vital rates, or indirectly, through effects on the population’s competitors, predators or prey and thence on vital rates. Indirect effects may include non-additive interactions with density dependence. Detection of climate drivers is critical to predicting climate change effects, but identification of potential drivers may depend on knowing the underlying mechanisms. For the butterfly Speyeria mormonia, one climate driver, snow melt date, has multiple effects on population growth. Snow melt date in year t has density-dependent indirect effects. Through frost effects, early snow melt decreases floral resources, thence per-capita nectar availability, which determines fecundity in the lab. Snow melt date in year t + 1 has density-independent direct effects. These effects explain 84% of the variation in population growth rate. One climate parameter thus has multiple effects on the dynamics of a species with non-overlapping generations, with one effect not detectable without understanding the underlying mechanism.