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Study: Butterflies Move North as Climate Changes

Study: Butterflies Move North as Climate Changes

Although discussions of climate change often focus on the trouble it will cause for humans, it is vital to remember that continued warming may have just as drastic an effect on plant and animal populations. A new study from Harvard University, published in Nature Climate Change, highlights another way that climate change is altering the world as we know it: as the climate warms, butterfly species are moving farther north, away from their traditional habitats.

In order to have a complete set of data to work with, the Harvard researchers teamed up with the Massachusetts Butterfly Club, an amateur naturalist group. The group provided the scientists with 19 years’ worth of meticulous butterfly species counts, gathered on almost 20,000 amateur expeditions.

The researchers discovered that many warm-climate butterfly species have had the sharpest increases in abundance. For instance, the giant swallowtail (pictured above) and the zabulon skipper have been historically considered to be “southern butterflies;” they were rare in Massachusetts in the 1980s, but climate change has increasingly driven them north.

Meanwhile, over three-quarters of northern butterfly species are rapidly declining in Massachusetts, especially those species whose eggs or larvae must live through the winter. If a season brings droughts or insufficient snow cover, these species could face extinction crises.

The study’s lead author, postdoctoral fellow Greg Breed, discusses how the implications of the study alter the ways we must approach saving endangered species:

“For most butterfly species, climate change seems to be a stronger change-agent than habitat loss. Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming,” says Breed. He points to the frosted elfin, a species that receives formal habitat protection from the state. This southerly distributed butterfly is now one of the most rapidly increasing species in Massachusetts, with an estimated 1000% increase since 1992. Some of this increase may be due to habitat protections, Breed allows. But over the same period, atlantis and aphrodite fritillaries, historically common summer butterflies in Massachusetts, have declined by nearly 90%—yet these northerly species remain unprotected.

Only time will tell if habitat and species protection will be sufficient to help these butterfly species survive a changing world, or if slowing global climate change is the only way to sustain them.

 

 

Related:
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Migrates
The Flight and Plight of Monarch Butterflies (video)
Tips to Make Your Garden Irresistible to Butterflies

Read more: Environment, Green, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Wildlife, , , , , , , , ,

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Molly Allison-Baker

Molly is a nature and travel enthusiast who is passionate about endangered languages, natural history, and women's and LGBT issues. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, reading, and hanging out with her three cats.

23 comments

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12:42AM PDT on Aug 29, 2012

Thanks Molly for providing this surprising, at least to me, information.

6:58PM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

"Although discussions of climate change often focus on the trouble it will cause for humans, it is vital to remember that continued warming may have just as drastic an effect on plant and animal populations. A new study from Harvard University, published in Nature Climate Change, highlights another way that climate change is altering the world as we know it. ..."

Oh really...? New study...? Use common sense!
What do you expect? It's the same environment we all (human, animals, plants etc.) live in - no escape possible...

"... slowing global climate change is the only way to sustain..." planet earth with all its inhabitants...

6:58PM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

"Although discussions of climate change often focus on the trouble it will cause for humans, it is vital to remember that continued warming may have just as drastic an effect on plant and animal populations. A new study from Harvard University, published in Nature Climate Change, highlights another way that climate change is altering the world as we know it. ..."

Oh really...? New study...? Use common sense!
What do you expect? It's the same environment we all (human, animals, plants etc.) live in - no escape possible...

"... slowing global climate change is the only way to sustain..." planet earth with all its inhabitants...

1:28PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

That explains why I've seen many more butterflies this year.

6:24AM PDT on Aug 25, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

9:13PM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

Welcome to the fields and meadows of Monsanto...poor things.

4:55PM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

Thanks for the article. Nature is always rolling with the punches....constantly evolving to suit changing factors.

11:26AM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

Thank you for sharing. What an eye opener.

6:57AM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

Thank you for this informative article. It would be wonderful to slow global climate chage.

2:50AM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

thanks, interesting... I think every creature on this earth is in danger... and WE are the reason...

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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