Internship Opportunitie


Project: The effect of climate change on butterfly coloration

Project title

The effect of climate change on butterfly coloration

Photo credit: Juliette Rubin

Mentor name

Owen McMillan
Co-mentor name: Juliette Rubin (postdoc)


Parque Nacional Soberanía (Panamá); Gamboa Lab in Gamboa, Panamá; Tupper, Panamá. Work in these locations will be overseen by Juliette Rubin

Project summary and objectives

Animals are subject to their environment, with some animal traits being especially sensitive to environmental perturbations. Wing coloration in butterflies is known to be susceptible to global temperature regimes on an evolutionary timescale, but the plasticity of wing coloration in response to environmental stressors on an individual lifespan level is less understood. In this project, the intern will help conduct heat challenge studies to answer the question: how does butterfly wing reflectance change in response to thermal stress during the pupal stage?

This work will be informative both to understand the important of climate regimes within which butterflies have evolved and to predict how butterfly coloration might change under a shifting climate, which could have implications for diverse biological interactions.

The intern will have both independent and collaborative research opportunities in this position. They will be involved in butterfly rearing, experimental design and manipulation, spectral analysis, and (guided) statistical computing.

Mentorship goals

During the course of this project, the intern will work hands-on with multiple species of butterfly both independently and alongside other researchers in the Gamboa Butterfly Ecology and Evolution Research Facility. They will gain experience with experimental procedures, visual ecology, behavioral ecology, color quantification methods, and the R programming language.

The intern will benefit from working with a diverse, international group of scientists, as well as participating in in STRI-based educational and outreach opportunities (i.e., attending public talks by other scientists, engaging in community outreach events, etc.). They will also have at least two meetings a week with their primary mentor (post doc Juliette Rubin) to discuss the ongoing project as well as relevant readings, as well as intermittent meetings with other members of the McMillan Lab group.

Desired Background

This internship offers a flexible schedule: the intern will be expected to work during the months of October – December, at least four hours per day, 5-6 days per week, totaling ~40 hours per week. Week-long breaks are possible, in coordination with others’ schedules. The intern will have the opportunity to be a coauthor on at least one major publication to which they contribute.

List of suggested readings

Koneru, M., & Caro, T. (2022). Animal coloration in the Anthropocene. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10.

Lis, C., Moore, M. P., & Martin, R. A. (2020). Warm developmental temperatures induce non-adaptive plasticity in the intrasexually selected colouration of a dragonfly. Ecological Entomology, 45(3), 663–670.

Kemp, D. J., Vukusic, P., & Rutowski, R. L. (2006). Stress-mediated covariance between nano-structural architecture and ultraviolet butterfly coloration. Functional Ecology, 20(2), 282–289.

Davis, A. K., Farrey, B. D., & Altizer, S. (2005). Variation in thermally induced melanism in monarch butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) from three North American populations. Journal of Thermal Biology, 30(5), 410–421.

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