Thermal tolerance and environmental persistence of a protozoan parasite in monarch butterflies

Figure 2 from the paper. Predicted probabilities of OE infection are plotted over the range of experimental temperatures for the three exposure durations: 2 weeks (purple), 35 weeks (blue), and 93 weeks (green). Provided by Isabella Ragonese.

Many parasites have external transmission stages that persist in the environment prior to infecting a new host. Understanding how long these stages can persist, and how abiotic conditions such as temperature affect parasite persistence, is important for predicting infection dynamics and parasite responses to future environmental change. In this study, we explored environmental persistence and thermal tolerance of a debilitating protozoan parasite that infects monarch butterflies. Parasite transmission occurs when dormant spores, shed by adult butterflies onto host plants and other surfaces, are later consumed by caterpillars. We exposed parasite spores to a gradient of ecologically-relevant temperatures for 2, 35, or 93 weeks. We tested spore viability by feeding controlled spore doses to susceptible monarch larvae, and examined relationships between temperature, time, and resulting infection metrics. We also examined whether distinct parasite genotypes derived from replicate migratory and resident monarch populations differed in their thermal tolerance. Finally, we examined evidence for a trade-off between short-term within-host replication and long-term persistence ability. Parasite viability decreased in response to warmer temperatures over moderate-to-long time scales. Individual parasite genotypes showed high heterogeneity in viability, but differences did not cluster by migratory vs. resident monarch populations. We found no support for a negative relationship between environmental persistence and within-host replication, as might be expected if parasites invest in short-term reproduction at the cost of longer-term survival. Findings here indicate that dormant spores can survive for many months under cooler conditions, and that heat dramatically shortens the window of transmission for this widespread and virulent butterfly parasite.

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, the brown football shapes depicted above, is an obligate, neogregarine protozoan parasite that infects monarch butterflies
Sánchez CA, Ragonese IG, de Roode JC, Altizer S. Thermal tolerance and environmental persistence of a protozoan parasite in monarch butterflies. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 2021 Feb 11:107544.

Read more on the Center for Ecology of Infectious Diseases website.

Carry-over Effects of the Larval Environment in Mosquito-Borne Disease Symptoms

Figure 9.1 Life-cycle of a mosquito, from egg to larvae to pupae to adult. Environmental carry-over effects of the larval environment and the
relevant adult life history traits discussed in this chapter are labeled.
Source: Eric Marty.

Check out the new book chapter by OSE student Mike Newberry and recent OSE graduate Dr. Michelle Evans!

Evans, M., Newberry, Philip M., and Courtney C. Murdock. “Carry-over Effects of the Larval Environment” in Population Biology of Vector-Borne Diseases. Editors: Drake JM, Bonsall M, Strand M. Oxford University Press; 2020 Dec 30. 155-174.

Habitat use as indicator of adaptive capacity to climate change

A male moose lounges in the grass. Image by David Mark from Pixabay.


Populations of cold‐adapted species at the trailing edges of geographic ranges are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change from the combination of exposure to warm temperatures and high sensitivity to heat. Many of these species are predicted to decline under future climate scenarios, but they could persist if they can adapt to warming climates either physiologically or behaviourally. We aim to understand local variation in contemporary habitat use and use this information to identify signs of adaptive capacity. We focus on moose (Alces alces), a charismatic species of conservation and public interest.


The northeastern United States, along the trailing edge of the moose geographic range in North America.


We compiled data on occurrences and habitat use of moose from remote cameras and GPS collars across the northeastern United States. We use these data to build habitat suitability models at local and regional spatial scales and then to predict future habitat suitability under climate change. We also use fine‐scale GPS data to model relationships between habitat use and temperature on a daily temporal scale and to predict future habitat use.


We find that habitat suitability for moose will decline under a range of climate change scenarios. However, moose across the region differ in their use of climatic and habitat space, indicating that they could exhibit adaptive capacity. We also find evidence for behavioural responses to weather, where moose increase their use of forested wetland habitats in warmer places and/or times.

Main conclusions

Our results suggest that there will be significant shifts in moose distribution due to climate change. However, if there is spatial variation in thermal tolerance, trailing‐edge populations could adapt to climate change. We highlight that prioritizing certain habitats for conservation (i.e., thermal refuges) could be crucial for this adaptation.

Teitelbaum CS, Sirén AP, Coffel E, Foster JR, Frair JL, Hinton JW, Horton RM, Kramer DW, Lesk C, Raymond C, Wattles DW. Habitat use as indicator of adaptive capacity to climate change. Diversity and Distributions. 2021.

Climate, Fire Regime, Geomorphology, and Conspecifics Influence the Spatial Distribution of Chinook Salmon Redds

Image of a portion of the Middle Salmon Fork stream taken by helicopter. Photo provided by Greg Jacobs.

Pacific salmon spawning and rearing habitats result from dynamic interactions among geomorphic processes, natural disturbances, and hydro‐climatological factors acting across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We used a 21‐year record of redd locations in a wilderness river network in central Idaho, USA, to examine which covariates best predict the spawning occurrence of Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha and how shifts under a changing climate might affect habitat availability. We quantified geomorphic characteristics (substrate size, channel slope, and valley confinement), climatic factors (stream temperature and summer discharge), wildfire, and conspecific abundance (as inferred by the number of redds) throughout the network. We then built and compared logistic regression models that estimated redd occurrence probability as a function of these covariates in 1‐km reaches throughout the network under current and projected climate change scenarios. Redd occurrence was strongly affected by nearly all of the covariates examined. The best models indicated that climate‐driven changes in redd occurrence probabilities will be relatively small but spatially heterogeneous, with warmer temperatures increasing occurrence probabilities in cold, high‐elevation reaches and decreasing probabilities in warm, low‐elevation reaches. Furthermore, positive effects of wildfire on redd occurrence may be more important than climate‐driven effects on stream temperature and summer discharge, although climate‐related changes in temperature and scour regime during the egg incubation period may influence survival to emergence. Our results identify where favorable spawning habitats are likely to exist under climate change, how future habitat distributions may differ from contemporary conditions, and where habitat conservation might be prioritized. Furthermore, the positive occurrence–abundance relationship we observed indicates that the study site is underseeded, and effective management actions are needed for increasing the recruitment of spawning adults to take advantage of available habitat.

Figure 3 from the paper showing (A) Observed salmon occurrence, (B) model-predicted contemporary occurence, (C) model-predicted change in salmon occurrence in 2040 and (D) 2080 under climate change scenarios.

Jacobs GR, Thurow RF, Buffington JM, Isaak D, Wenger SJ. Climate, Fire Regime, Geomorphology, and Conspecifics Influence the Spatial Distribution of Chinook Salmon Redds. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 2020.

Dead litter of resident species first facilitates and then inhibits sequential life stages of range‐expanding species

  1. Resident species can facilitate invading species (biotic assistance) or inhibit their expansion (biotic resistance). Species interactions are often context‐dependent and the relative importance of biotic assistance versus resistance could vary with abiotic conditions or the life stage of the invading species, as invader stress tolerances and resource requirements change with ontogeny. In northeast Florida salt marshes, the abundant dead litter (wrack) of the native marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, could influence the expansion success of the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans, a tropical species that is expanding its range northward.
  2. We used two field experiments to examine how S. alterniflora wrack affects A. germinans success during (a) propagule establishment and (b) subsequent seedling survival. We also conducted laboratory feeding assays to identify propagule consumers and assess how wrack presence influences herbivory on mangrove propagules.
  3. Spartina alterniflora wrack facilitated A. germinans establishment by promoting propagule recruitment, retention and rooting; the tidal regime influenced the magnitude of these effects. However, over time S. alterniflora wrack inhibited A. germinans seedling success by smothering seedlings and attracting herbivore consumers. Feeding assays identified rodents—which seek refuge in wrack—as consumers of A. germinans propagules.
  4. Synthesis. Our results suggest that the deleterious effects of S. alterniflora wrack on A. germinans seedling survival counterbalance the initial beneficial effects of wrack on A. germinans seed establishment. Such seed‐seedling conflicts can arise when species stress tolerances and resource requirements change throughout development and vary with abiotic conditions. In concert with the tidal conditions, the relative importance of positive and negative interactions with wrack at each life stage can influence the rate of local and regional mangrove expansion. Because interaction strengths can change in direction and magnitude with ontogeny, it is essential to examine resident–invader interactions at multiple life stages and across environmental gradients to uncover the mechanisms of biotic assistance and resistance during invasion.

Smith RS, Blaze JA, Byers JE. Dead litter of resident species first facilitates and then inhibits sequential life stages of range‐expanding species. Journal of Ecology.