A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that dragonflies are losing key features due to climate change. The study has established that global warming is causing male dragonflies to lose their color, a feature used to attract mates.
The study was lead and co-authored by Michael Moore, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis. In the study, researchers analyzed over 300 dragonfly species from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. They also cross-referenced wing colors between about 2,700 individual dragonflies from different locations and climates. It was found that male dragonflies were losing their wing colors due to increasing global temperatures.
“Our research shows that males and females of these dragonfly species are going to shift in pretty different ways as the climate changes,” Moore said in an interview. “These changes are going to happen likely on a much faster timescale than the evolutionary changes in these species have ever occurred before.”
A different study done in 2019 found that male dragonflies with darker wing patterns thrive in colder conditions. The darker pigmentation absorbs more heat and is likely to increase their body temperature by 2 degrees Celsius. In contrast, they tend to give away their color to adapt to higher temperatures.
“Evolutionary changes and wing coloration are a really consistent way that dragonflies adapt to their climates,” Moore said. “This got us wondering what the role of evolutionary changes in wing coloration might be as dragonflies respond to the rise in global temperatures.”
While the study raises serious concerns about the future of dragonflies and mating, the researchers are unable to explain the changes experienced in female dragonflies. According to Moore, female dragonflies usually do not show drastic changes to climate change, and when they do, it is the opposite of what happens to male dragonflies. In other words, female dragonflies may get darker as temperatures rise.
“We don’t yet know what’s driving these evolutionary changes in female wing coloration,” Moore said. “But one of the very important things that this indicates is that we shouldn’t assume that males and females are going to respond to climatic conditions in exactly the same way.”
Lead image via Pixabay