Choose Your Partner Wisely

Damselflies are more likely to be able to withstand the cold Scottish climate if they are part of the ‘right social group’, according to scientists from the University of Aberdeen.

Researchers studied a particular species of damselfly, which uses its colour to communicate and signal their social and reproductive strategies to other members of their species. 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.

damselfly - red

Large Red Damselfly This damselfly, which I am fairly certain is a Large Red female. It was caught in a cobweb revealing what appear to be its eggs on its underbelly. Ii was by the side of one of the unnamed lochs in the Monadh Mòr SSSI. a few minutes later it freed itself from the cobweb and flew off. Credit Valenta

Dr Lesley Lancaster, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, led the research after noticing that in colder sites there was a high frequency of one particular colour form, and wanted to delve further to find out if social interactions between the species induced physiological changes that enabled the damselfly to cope with the cold.

Dr Lancaster said:

“We found that cold acclimation ability was indeed shaped by both climatic conditions and social interactions. Being around many individuals of the same colour (i.e., the same social strategy) 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.

“This is because the protective, physiological stress response induced by these social interactions also protects individuals against future stressors, including cold weather events. For this reason, we found high frequencies of all the same social type in cold, harsh, recently colonized sites. This was because this particular social dynamic conferred an ability to survive the cold temperatures there.

“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!”

damselfly - common blue

Common Blue Damselfly Beside the Saxon Shore Way (long distance path) on a byway near the Cliffe Pools. Credit David Anstiss

The work was carried out studying  damselflies from across Aberdeenshire and published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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  1. Thank you for publishing an article about damselflies! If The Orkney News would like to cover any Odonata-related stories from Orkney, my door is always open. The flight season for Orkney has just begun, with some Large Red Damselflies reported from East Mainland. There will be a dragonfly walk in Hoy during National Dragonfly Week in July. Details will be published via OrkOdo on Facebook. Best Wishes, Graeme Walker (Dragonfly recorder for Orkney VC111)

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