Potential impacts of a future persistent El Niño or La Niña on three subspecies of Australian butterflies.

Beaumont, L. J., D. Duursma, D. J. Kemp, P. D. Wilson, and J.P. Evans
Biotropica, doi: 10.1111/btp.12356, 2016.


One of the major uncertainties of 21st century climate change is the potential for shifts to the intensity and frequency of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. Although this phenomenon is known to have dramatic impacts on ecosystems regionally and globally, the biological consequences of climate change-driven shifts in future ENSO events have been unexplored. Here, we investigate the potential impacts that a persistent El Niño, La Niña, or ‘Neutral’ phase may have on species distributions. Using MaxEnt, we model the distribution of climatically suitable habitat for three northeast Australian butterfly subspecies (Doleschallia bisaltide australis, Hypolimnas alimena lamina, and Mycalesis terminus terminus) across the three ENSO phases. We find that the spatial extent and quality of habitat are lowest under conditions that would characterize a persistent El Niño (hot/dry). In contrast, suitable habitat is broadest under the warm/ wet conditions associated with La Niña. Statistical analyses of the difference between pair-wise combinations of suitability maps using Hellinger distance showed that projections for each subspecies and ENSO phase combination were significantly different from other combinations. The resilience of these, and other, butterfly (sub)species to changes in ENSO will be influenced by fluctuations in the strength of these events, availability of refugia, and life-history characteristics. However, the population dynamics of wet- and dry-season phenotypes of M. t. terminus and physiological limitations to high temperatures suggest that this subspecies, in particular, may have limited resilience should the strength and frequency of El Niño events increase.

Key Figure

FIGURE 1. MaxEnt projections of climate suitability for three subspecies of Australian butterflies, under persistent El Niño, La Niña, and Neutral phases. (A) Doleschallia bisaltide australis, (B) Hypolimnas alimena lamina, and (C) Mycalesis terminus terminus.

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