An integrative approach for projecting insect responses to a rapidly changing climate


Leslie Ries, Greg Breed, Joel Kingsolver, Angela Smilanich and Louie H. Yang


Projecting species’ responses to climate change at continental scales is a current “grand challenge” of ecological research. Insects are sensitive indicators of both climate and land-use change and recent studies indicate widespread declines in many geographic regions. To predict changes across entire ranges, a variety of species distribution models have been developed, but rarely account for regional variability, ecological interactions or a species’ potential to adapt to changing conditions. This project spans multiple institutions situated in the United States’ southwest, polar north, and temperate eastern regions. A series of physiological experiments will be implemented for five widespread butterfly species with populations sourced from different biomes within each of their ranges. Caterpillars will be subjected to a range of conditions mimicking past, current and future climates. Their development rate, survivorship, immune response, and genetic structure and gene expression (which genes are actively coding for proteins) will be measured and used to build models that predict distributional shifts. Data collected by community (“citizen”) scientists will be used to validate the models. This project requires substantial cross-disciplinary collaboration, and a central goal is to recruit diverse trainees at the graduate and undergraduate levels and train them in the “science of team science”. Project trainees will develop independent research ideas that align with and expand the project’s scope and travel between and work at collaborating institutions as an inter-lab exchange to learn new techniques and be exposed to different research philosophies. Finally, the project has significant management implications for insect biodiversity conservation.

NSF Integrative Biology, 2022-2025