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Climate warming leads to decline in frequencies of melanic individuals in subarctic leaf beetle populations

Zvereva, Elena L., Hunter, Mark D., Zverev, Vitali, Kruglova, Oksana Y., Kozlov, Mikhail V.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.673 pp. 237-244
Chrysomela, climate, cold, color, genetic variation, global warming, larval development, males, models, morphs, phenotype, pollution load, population density, population dynamics, spring, temperature, weather, Russia
Intraspecific diversity buffers populations from deleterious impacts of environmental change. Nevertheless, the consequences of climate warming for phenotypic and genetic diversity within populations and species remain poorly understood. The goal of our study was to explore among-year variations in the phenotypic structure of populations and their relationships with climate variability and population dynamics. We analysed multiyear (1992–2018) data on colour morph frequencies within populations of the leaf beetle, Chrysomela lapponica, from multiple sites in the Kola Peninsula (northwestern Russia). We observed a strong decline in the proportion of dark (melanic) morphs among overwintered beetles during the study period; this decline was consistent across all study sites. Using model selection procedures, we explained declines in the dark morph of overwintered beetles by increases in minimum spring (May–June) daily temperatures. Other climatic characteristics, pollution load, and beetle population density were unrelated to variation in colour morph frequencies. Among newly emerged beetles (August), dark morph frequencies also decreased with an increase in average spring temperatures, but were unrelated to mean temperatures during the larval development period (July). These results suggest that the two-fold decline in dark morph frequencies during the past 26 years has been driven by the 2.5 °C increase in spring temperatures, most likely because dark males lose the mating advantages over light males that they obtain during cold springs. The continued loss of dark morphs and related decrease in within-population diversity may render leaf beetle populations more vulnerable to future environmental changes, in particular to those expressed in extreme weather fluctuations. Our study demonstrates that declines in within-population diversity are already underway in subarctic areas, and that these declines are likely driven by climate warming.