Developmental lead exposure has mixed effects on butterfly cognitive processes

Kinsey H. Philips, Megan E. Kobiela, Emilie C. Snell-Rood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

While the effects of lead pollution have been well studied in vertebrates, it is unclear to what extent lead may negatively affect insect cognition. Lead pollution in soils can elevate lead in plant tissues, suggesting it could negatively affect neural development of insect herbivores. We used the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) as a model system to study the effect of lead pollution on insect cognitive processes, which play an important role in how insects locate and handle resources. Cabbage white butterfly larvae were reared on a 4-ppm lead diet, a concentration representative of vegetation in polluted sites; we measured eye size and performance on a foraging assay in adults. Relative to controls, lead-reared butterflies did not differ in time or ability to search for a food reward associated with a less preferred color. Indeed, lead-treated butterflies were more likely to participate in the behavioral assay itself. Lead exposure did not negatively affect survival or body size, and it actually sped up development time. The effects of lead on relative eye size varied with sex: lead tended to reduce eye size in males, but increase eye size in females. These results suggest that low levels of lead pollution may have mixed effects on butterfly vision, but only minimal impacts on performance in foraging tasks, although follow-up work is needed to test whether this result is specific to cabbage whites, which are often associated with disturbed areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-96
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Cognition
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Keywords

  • Butterfly
  • Learning
  • Neurotoxin
  • Pb
  • Pollinator
  • Pollution

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