Scottish damselflies should choose their friends wisely

Damselflies are more likely to be able to withstand the cold climate in Scotland if they are part of the ‘right social group.’

Blue-tailed damselfly. © Mauvries/Getty

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen studied the blue-tailed damselfly, which uses its colour to communicate and to signal their social and reproductive strategies to other members of their species.

Advertisement

The team looked at how groups tolerated the cold by examining the colour forms they took, as well as the social environments and climates that contributed to cold acclimation in the different colour morphs.

Dr Lesley Lancaster led the research after noticing that in colder sites there was a high frequency of one particular colour form.

“We found that cold acclimation ability was indeed shaped by both climatic conditions and social interactions,” says Lancaster.

“Being around many individuals of the same colour as oneself was stressful to the damselflies. Although it is not usually beneficial to be in a stressful social environment, for damselflies in cold climates, it turns out that being stressed out by your peers is actually a positive, because the protective, physiological stress protects individuals against future stressors.”

The researchers believe that this social interaction and the protection it facilitates is the reason that they found high frequencies of all the same social type in cold, harsh, recently colonized sites.

Lancaster adds “this research shows that social dynamics can have powerful effects on the ability of species to withstand novel climates. Basically, if you have the right social partners, you can tolerate more harsh conditions than with the wrong social partners!”

Read the paper in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Advertisement

Main image: Blue-tailed damselfly. © Mauvries/Getty