Are damselflies in distress?
Damselflies are evolving rapidly as they expand their range in response to a warming climate, according to new research led by the Department of Biological Sciences.
“Genes that influence heat tolerance, physiology, and even vision are giving them evolutionary options to help them cope with climate change. Other insects may not be so lucky,” says Biology’s Dr Rachael Dudaniec, lead author of the paper.
The study, published in Molecular Ecology yesterday, investigated the genetics of an insect’s capacity to adapt and survive in a changing world by looking at the blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans) in Sweden.
“Damselflies, like other aquatic insects, are faced with a dilemma given the current and unprecedented rate of global warming,” says Rachael.
“Either they perish, move elsewhere or adapt to the new environmental conditions. It’s a classic case of fight or flight.”
The researchers tracked the frequency of particular genes in the damselfly population as environmental conditions—such as temperature, rainfall, wind speed and tree cover— changed over their range.
They found that the species’ genes strongly responded to changes in the environment as you moved from the southern core of the species’ distribution to the northern edge of their current range.
Photo by Rachael Dudaniec.
Published 1 May 2018.