Wednesday 16 November 2011

Is global warming erasing a melanism cline?

 ResearchBlogging.orgThe 2 spot ladybirds, Adalia bipunctata, I find in my garden are of the typical morph, red with 2 black spots, one in the centre of each wing case, but there is also a melanic morph in this species* - black with four red spots - and several rarer intermediate morphs, which are determined genetically. Some colour morphs tend to be more common in some areas than in others. This geographic variation is thought to reflect differences in temperature regulation between morphs. Melanic ladybirds benefit from thermoregulating more effectively in certain microclimates: when there is little, intermittent sunshine and is colder. This advantage becomes most important in early spring, when after emerging from hibernation ladybird behaviour is strongly limited by temperature, so the black ladybirds can start reproducing earlier. Paul Brakefield and Peter de Jong have studied the polymorphism in the two spot ladybird in Holland for 30 years. The two spot colour polymorphism, nicely matched the differences in climate between the warmer coast and the colder inland areas. At the beginning of their study period, in 1980, the dark morph was commonest inland, where it reached 60%, and its frequency decreased gradually towards the coast (less than 20%). Samples taken in the same transect since then show how the sharp decline in frequency of the dark morph gradually disappeared to the point that there was little if no differences between sampled areas in 2004, with the frequency of the melanics in inland areas dropping to similar levels than the frequency in coastal areas. Brakefield and de Jong think that the disappearance of this cline is a response of the ladybirds to the gradually warming climate in the area.
Figure 1 Changes over time in the proportion of the illustrated melanic and non-melanic morphs of the two-spot ladybird beetle along a transect of ca. 115 km in length in the Netherlands (bottom-left). Samples were collected in each of the 5 years indicated at 16 more or less evenly spaced localities from west to east. Colouring of years matches the histograms for melanic frequency in the individual samples from each locality. The panel on the bottom-right shows deviations in average temperature from a ‘normal’ season/year at De Bilt (red spot on map). From left to right, columns represent data for winter (Wi), spring (Sp), summer (Su), autumn (Au) and the overall year (Tot), respectively, and from top to bottom for different years beginning before the period of ladybird sampling. The colour of each block indicates the extent to which the average temperature in the particular season/year deviated from ‘normal’; white, no deviation, blue, cooler than normal (dark blue more extreme than light blue), red, warmer than normal (dark red more extreme than light red)(from Brakefield & de Jong, 2011)

The story has a second dark aspect. The researchers had trouble reaching acceptable sample sizes in the 2004 sampling season. They even failed to find 2 spot ladybirds in two localities where they previously had been abundant. They attribute the decrease in numbers of the 2 spot ladybird to the impact of the invasive harlequin ladybird, which reached Holland in 2002. Not only the melanism cline is gone, but the 2 spot seems to be dissapearing as well.


Brakefield PM, & de Jong PW (2011). A steep cline in ladybird melanism has decayed over 25 years: a genetic response to climate change? Heredity PMID: 21792220
So it seems I do have melanic 2 spots in the garden (above). Thank you to Helen Roy, who curates the Ladybird survey site for the ID.

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