Biology » Ecology and the Biosphere » The Scope of Ecology

Organismal Ecology

Organismal Ecology

Researchers studying ecology at the organismal level are interested in the adaptations that enable individuals to live in specific habitats. These adaptations can be morphological, physiological, and behavioral. For instance, the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) (see the figure below) is considered a specialist because the females preferentially oviposit (that is, lay eggs) on wild lupine. This preferential adaptation means that the Karner blue butterfly is highly dependent on the presence of wild lupine plants for its continued survival.

Photo depicts a Karner blue butterfly, which has light blue wings with gold ovals and black dots around the edges.

The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is a rare butterfly that lives only in open areas with few trees or shrubs, such as pine barrens and oak savannas. It can only lay its eggs on lupine plants. (credit: modification of work by J & K Hollingsworth, USFWS)

After hatching, the larval caterpillars emerge and spend four to six weeks feeding solely on wild lupine (see the figure below). The caterpillars pupate (undergo metamorphosis) and emerge as butterflies after about four weeks. The adult butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers of wild lupine and other plant species. A researcher interested in studying Karner blue butterflies at the organismal level might, in addition to asking questions about egg laying, ask questions about the butterflies’ preferred temperature (a physiological question) or the behavior of the caterpillars when they are at different larval stages (a behavioral question).

This photo depicts a wild lupine flower, which is long and thin with clam-shaped petals radiating out from the center. The bottom third of the flower is blue, the middle is pink and blue, and the top is green.

The wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) is the host plant for the Karner blue butterfly.

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