TitleAdaptive plasticity in wing melanisation of a montane butterfly across a Himalayan elevational gradient
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsGautam S, Kunte K
Type of Article07/2020

Traits that are significant to the thermal ecology of temperate or montane species are expected to prominently co-vary with the thermal environment experienced by an organism. The HimalayanPieris canidiabutterfly exhibits considerable variation in wing melanisation. We investigated: (i) whether variation in wing melanisation and (ii) activity period of this montane butterfly was influenced by the seasonally and elevationally changing thermal landscape. We discovered that wing melanisation varied across elevation, seasons, sex, and wing surfaces, with the variation strongly structured in space and time: colder seasons and higher elevations produced more melanic individuals. Notably, melanisation did not vary uniformly across all wing surfaces: (i) melanisation of the ventral hindwing co-varied much more prominently with elevation, but (ii) melanisation on all other surfaces varied with seasonal changes in the thermal environment. Observed wing surface-specific patterns indicated thermoregulatory function for this variation in melanisation. Such wing surface-specific responses to seasonal and elevational variation in temperature have rarely been reported in montane insects. Moreover, daily and seasonal thermal cycles were found to strongly influence activity periods of this species, suggesting the potential limits to wing melanisation plasticity. Overall, these results showed that the seasonal and elevational gradients in temperature influence the thermal phenotype as well as activity periods of this Himalayan butterfly. It will be critical to study the phenotypic evolution of such montane insects in response to the ongoing climate change, which is already showing significant signs in this iconic mountain range.