British butterfly is evolving to respond to climate change

Nov 30, 2011
British butterfly is evolving to respond to climate change
An image of the Brown Argus butterfly. Image by Vince Massimo

As global temperatures rise and climatic zones move polewards, species will need to find different environments to prevent extinction. New research, published today in the journal Molecular Ecology, has revealed that climate change is causing certain species to move and adapt to a range of new habitats.

The study, led by academics at the Universities of Bristol and Sheffield, aimed to understand the role of evolution in helping a species to successfully track ongoing .

With climate warming many species are moving further north in the UK, however, this may mean crossing a landscape with increasingly less of their preferred habitat. Evolutionary change in the ability to use geographically widespread habitats or increased ability to move longer distances can help species to track the warming climate and move northwards.

The Brown Argus butterfly is successfully expanding its distribution northwards in the UK and uses a range of distinct habitats. Using to detect evolutionary change, the researchers were able to show that the colonisation of new sites further north by the Brown Argus has involved significant adaptation during or following colonisation. 

Furthermore, the results suggest that populations of the Brown Argus are adapted to different habitats and that pre-existing variation in habitat preference between populations has been important in allowing the of new habitats.

James Buckley, one of the researchers from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies to identify genetic evidence for evolutionary change associated with range shifts driven by recent climate change.”

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-funded study found that is likely to affect the success of species’ responses to climate change and that maximising genetic variation in ecological traits (such as habitat preference) across species’ distributions should help species to move northwards and track the changing climate across a fragmented landscape.

James added: “These findings are important as understanding the likelihood and speed of such adaptive change is important in determining the rate of species extinction with ongoing climate change.”

Explore further: New study charts the global invasion of crop pests

More information: The paper, entitled Evidence for evolutionary change associated with the recent range expansion of the British butterfly, Aricia agestis, in response to climate change, by BUCKLEY, J., BUTLIN, R. K. and BRIDLE, J. R. (2011) is published (online ahead of print) in Molecular Ecology (doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05388.x).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Biodiversity can promote survival on a warming planet

Nov 04, 2011

Whether a species can evolve to survive climate change may depend on the biodiversity of its ecological community, according to a new mathematical model that simulates the effect of climate change on plants ...

Recommended for you

New study charts the global invasion of crop pests

12 hours ago

Many of the world's most important crop-producing countries will be fully saturated with pests by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a new study led by the University of Exeter.

Zambia lifts ban on safari hunting

14 hours ago

Zambia has lifted a 20-month ban on safari hunting because it has lost too much revenue, but lions and leopards will remain protected, the government said Wednesday.

The devastating spread of the mountain pine beetle

21 hours ago

When the mountain pine beetle began blazing a path across forests in British Columbia and Alberta, nobody could have imagined the extent of the damage to come. But as the insect devastated pine forests and ...

User comments : 0