Research news

Interested in Entomology? Hear more from our PhD student, Liam Crowley and his supervisors Prof Jon Sadler and Dr Scott Hayward by clicking through to Entocast Liam and fellow entomologist Nick discuss the most interesting news, facts and science of the entomological world.

Dr Scott Hayward

pararge-aegeriaPararge aegeria
By Quartl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Animals choose their places to live, their habitats, based on trade-offs between access to food, shelter, a comfortable environment, availability of mates, and so on. Humans change habitats, sometimes directly (eg through management) and sometimes indirectly (eg through global climate change). This study looks at how habitat associations of the speckled wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria, in the UK have changed over time in line with variation in specific aspects of climate (temperature and moisture availability). These changing patterns in habitat associations reflect the butterfly's responses to local climate ('microclimatic') differences in its favoured (woodland) habitat versus more open habitats.

We find that the butterfly distribution changes from being predominantly a woodland specialist where harsh climate limits the butterfly's performance, to being a habitat generalist in places with more favourable large-scale climates. We showed increased generalisation in places with warm winters compared with cool winters and places with warm and wet summers compared with warm and dry summers.

Our results imply that animals may not show simple relationships between their preferred habitat and climate, but may instead have complex interactions even within the core of their range. This understanding of habitat is important because, in patchy landscapes, the viability of populations will depend on having habitat sizes and connectedness that allows for relationships of the kind we have uncovered. Species may be more vulnerable in some parts of their range than others, with clear implications for conservation, pest control, and pollinator support.

Pateman, R. M., Thomas, C. D., Hayward, S. A. L. and Hill, J. K. (2015), Macro- and microclimatic interactions can drive variation in species' habitat associations. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13056


Dr Jason Hilton


Dr Jason Hilton is a paleobotanist and evolutionary plant biologist providing a deep time perspective to BIFoR.  Below, is a taste of his recent paper in the prestigious American Journal of Botany.

Fossil seed-cone provides insight into evolution of modern conifers. 

The conifer clade has a rich fossil record extending back over 300 million years, yet our understanding of crown-group conifer evolution has been constrained by a lack of well-preserved fossils.   A mid-Jurassic locality on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, has yielded a seed-cone that constitutes the earliest anatomically preserved evidence for the diverse conifer family Cupressaceae. Results are now being analysed to see how the structure of conifer cones have changed through time in response to changing environments and climate.

Spencer, A. R. T., G. Mapes, R. M. Bateman, J. Hilton, and G. W. Rothwell (2015) Middle Jurassic evidence for the origin of Cupressaceae: a paleobotanical context for the roles of regulatory genetics and development in the evolution of conifer seed cones, American Journal of Botany,  Vol 102, No 6 June 2015

Professor Ian Fairchild

golgotha-cave-280x270Karri forest viewed from Golgotha Cave, Margaret River, Western Australia

Two recently published papers (Borsato et al., 2015* and Treble et al, 2015**) illustrate the nature of cave research in which Ian is involved. The first paper gives an overview of the preservation of records of late 20th century sulphur pollution in the Alps, whilst the second is one of a series of papers on the climatically sensitive region of SW Western Australia which is seeing warming and drying much faster than predicted by computer models.

As part of his Australian Research Council-funded joint project with Andy Baker and Pauline Treble on fire effects on karst, and linked also to hydrological collaborations between Chris Bradley and Pauline, he focuses on the value of a mass balance approach to understanding evolution of chemistry of shallow groundwater that can be fossilized in stalagmites. It turns out that in the SW Australia region the waxing and waning of the forest biomass is key and its behaviour in relation to drying and fires may be discernable from speleothem records.

*Borsato, A., Frisia, S., Wynn, P., Fairchild, I.J. & Miorandi, R. 2015 Sulphate concentration in cave dripwater and speleothems: long-term trends and overview of its significance as proxy of environmental processes and climate forcing. Quaternary Science Reviews, 127, 48-60.

**Treble, P.C., Fairchild, I.J., Griffiths, A., Baker, A., Meredith, K.M., Wood, A. and McGuire, E. 2015 Impacts of cave air ventilation and prior calcite precipitation on Golgotha Cave dripwater chemistry, southwest Australia. Quaternary Science Reviews, 127, 61-72.