The climate crisis is changing the appearance of male dragonflies – and how they find their mates, according to a new study.
Typically, male dragonflies have ornamental black patterns on their wings to attract mates and intimidate rivals.
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However, researchers noticed that male dragonflies in areas where the climate is hotter are evolving to have less of that distinct pattern and color. Notably, females are not evolving in this way.
While the black pigmentation helps male dragonflies find mates and defend against rivals, it also makes them significantly hotter — up to 2 degrees Celsius warmer. The overheating causes damage to their wings, reduces their ability to fight and can even lead to death, according to The Guardian.
“One of biology’s most pressing goals is to understand how organisms adapt to their climates,” researchers write. “Here, we show that dragonflies consistently adapt to warmer climates across space and time by evolving less male melanin ornamentation.”
Researchers used a database that included more than 300 dragonfly species, information about their location and climate, and compared the wing colors of almost 3,000 dragonflies from different species, according to The Guardian.
They then compared the color of wings of dragonflies that were born in hotter or colder climates and found that warmer temperature dragonflies were evolving with less black wing decoration.
“It seems to be a really consistent way that dragonflies adapt to living in different climates,” Michael Moore evolutionary biologist at the Washington University, St. Louis, told The Guardian. “That’s really exciting because it’s one of the most consistent evolutionary responses that we see to any kind of environment for any sort of mating-related trait, in any kind of animal.”
Saint Louis University professor Kasey Fowler-Finn says these findings are unique in that they show how sexually selected traits, which are primarily thought of in terms of helping reproduction, are actually evolving so the species can survive under the climate crisis, The Guardian reports.
“Our research suggests that this could be a really beneficial way that they could adapt,” Moore told The Guardian. “And that it seems quite plausible that they might continue to evolve in this way.”
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