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Environmental controls on the phenology of moths: predicting plasticity and constraint under climate change


Ecological systems have naturally high interannual variance in phenology. Component species have presumably evolved to maintain appropriate phenologies under historical climates, but cases of inappropriate phenology can be expected with climate change. Understanding controls on phenology permits predictions of ecological responses to climate change. We studied phenological control systems in Lepidoptera by analyzing flight times recorded at a network of sites in Finland. We evaluated the strength and form of controls from temperature and photoperiod, and tested for geographic variation within species. Temperature controls on phenology were evident in 51% of 112 study species and for a third of those thermal controls appear to be modified by photoperiodic cues. For 24% of the total, photoperiod by itself emerged as the most likely control system. Species with thermal control alone should be most immediately responsive in phenology to climate warming, but variably so depending upon the minimum temperature at which appreciable development occurs and the thermal responsiveness of development rate. Photoperiodic modification of thermal controls constrains phenotypic responses in phenologies to climate change, but can evolve to permit local adaptation. Our results suggest that climate change will alter the phenological structure of the Finnish Lepidoptera community in ways that are predictable with knowledge of the proximate physiological controls. Understanding how phenological controls in Lepidoptera compare to that of their host plants and enemies could permit general inferences regarding climatic effects on mid- to high-latitude ecosystems.