Nav: Home

Scientists identify British butterflies most threatened by climate change

October 24, 2019

Scientists have discovered why climate change may be contributing to the decline of some British butterflies and moths, such as Silver-studded Blue and High Brown Fritillary butterflies.

Many British butterflies and moths have been responding to warmer temperatures by emerging earlier in the year and for the first time scientists have identified why this is creating winners and losers among species.

The findings will help conservationists identify butterfly and moth species most at risk from climate change, the researchers say.

The study, led by the University of York, found that emerging earlier in the year may be benefitting species which have multiple, rapid breeding cycles per year and are flexible about their habitat (such as the Speckled Wood butterfly), by allowing them more time to bulk up in numbers before winter and expand their range towards the north.

In contrast, early emergence may be causing species that are habitat specialists and have only a single life-cycle per year, to shrink in numbers and disappear from northern parts of the country within their historical range.

Single generation species that are habitat specialists (like the rare High Brown Fritillary butterfly) are most vulnerable to climate change because they cannot benefit from extra breeding time and emerging earlier may throw them out of seasonal synchrony with their restricted diet of food resources, the researchers suggest.

The researchers studied data on butterflies and moths, contributed by citizen scientists to a range of schemes including Butterflies for the New Millennium and the National Moth Recording Scheme (both run by Butterfly Conservation), over a 20 year period (1995-2014) when the average spring temperatures in Britain increased by 0.5 degrees.

Temperature increases are causing butterflies and moths to emerge on average between one and six days earlier per decade over this time period.

Lead author of the study, Dr Callum Macgregor, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: "Because butterflies in general are warmth loving, scientists predicted that the range margin of most species would move north as a result of global heating. However this hasn't happened as widely or as quickly as expected for many species.

"Our study is the first to establish that there is a direct connection between changes in emergence date and impacts on the habitat range of butterflies and moths. This is because emerging earlier has caused some species to decline in abundance, and we know that species tend only to expand their range when they are doing well."

Professor Jane Hill, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, who leads the NERC Highlight project, said: "Our results indicate that while some more flexible species are able to thrive by emerging earlier in the year, this is not the case for many single generation species that are habitat specialists - these species are vulnerable to climate change."

Co-author Professor Chris Thomas, from the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity at the University of York, added: "These changes remind us how pervasive the impacts of climate change have already been for the world's biological systems, favouring some species over others. The fingerprint of human-caused climate change is already everywhere we look."

Professor Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation said: "The study shows that we urgently need to conduct ecological research on threatened butterflies such as the High Brown Fritillary, to see if we can manage land in a new way that can help them adapt to the current negative effects of climate change."
-end-
Climate-induced phenology shifts linked to range expansions in species with multiple reproductive cycles per year is published in Nature Communications.

This study was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the universities of Bristol, Liverpool, Melbourne (Australia) and Stockholm (Sweden), in addition to researchers at Butterfly Conservation; the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology; Rothamsted Research; and the Natural History Museum. The research was supported by a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council.

University of York

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.