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Tanana Arctic Butterfly a Canary in Climate Change Coal Mine?

Image: Tanana Arctic Butterfly a Canary in Climate Change Coal Mine?
 (Andrew Warren)

By    |   Tuesday, 22 Mar 2016 09:06 AM

The Tanana Arctic butterfly discovered in Alaska may hold climate change secrets, according to a recent study.

“This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we’ll be able to say ‘Wow, there are some changes happening',” said Andrew Warren, who studies butterflies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, according to The Christian Science Monitor. “This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing.”

So, the butterfly is kind of like the proverbial canary kept in a cage in a coal mine to keel over to signal the presence of deadly gases.

Warren is the lead author of a study about the butterfly in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera.

The first new butterfly species identified in Alaska in 28 years, the Tanana Arctic butterfly species living in the forests of the Tanana-Yukon River Basin may be a hybrid of two related species, the Chryxus Arctic and the White-veined Arctic. Its possible significance to climate change study lies in its distinction as possibly the only endemic to Alaska and the fact that butterflies react quickly to climate change.

Warren said the butterflies may have adapted before the last ice age and could help scientists understand the geological history of arctic North America, according to a University of Florida release.

“Hybrid species demonstrate that animals evolved in a way that people haven’t really thought about much before, although the phenomenon is fairly well studied in plants,” Warren said. “Scientists who study plants and fish have suggested that unglaciated parts of ancient Alaska known as Beringia, including the strip of land that once connected Asia and what's now Alaska, served as a refuge where plants and animals waited out the last ice age and then moved eastward or southward from there. This is potentially a supporting piece of evidence for that.”

The Tanana Arctic butterfly along with its two related species are believed to have been present in Beringia before the last ice age until a colder climate pushed the Chryxus Arctic south into the Rocky Mountains, The Christian Science monitor noted.

The butterfly had been misidentified for more than 60 years until Warren noticed distinct characteristics during his work as senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History, The Associated Press said.

Warren plans to travel to Alaska next year in search of the butterfly in order to fully sequence the genome and learn more about its history.

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The Tanana Arctic butterfly discovered in Alaska may hold climate change secrets, according to a recent study.
tanana, arctic, butterfly, climate, change
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2016-06-22
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2016 09:06 AM
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