Butterflies seek higher ground to escape warmer temperatures

Feb 08, 2010 By Brian Winter

A study of beleaguered butterflies in California provides some of the best clues yet as to how other animals may react to climate change, scientists say.

The unprecedented, 35-year analysis of butterfly populations in the details how several species are fleeing to higher elevations to escape warming temperatures.

Those that already live on mountaintops and can't adjust to the heat have "nowhere else to go but heaven," says Arthur Shapiro, a biologist at University of California-Davis who collected the data.

Butterflies have long been regarded as an early warning indicator for climate change. Their short life cycles and high sensitivity to temperature make them especially vulnerable, says Matthew Forister, a biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno and the study's lead author.

"Like polar bears, these high-elevation butterflies were already living in extreme environments, and now they don't have any options" for escape, Forister says. He says butterfly populations have always shifted over time, but the destruction of their habitat has occurred at an accelerated pace in recent years because of urbanization and warming temperatures.

"Their environment is changing so quickly that they just can't cope," Forister says.

The study, published last month in the journal , tracked 159 species of butterflies at 10 locations. It's one of the best compilations of data on how any species has reacted to environmental changes in recent decades, says Gary Langham, lead scientist in California for the National Audubon Society, a conservation group.

A separate study published in September in Biology Letters said was one possible explanation for a sharp decline in female in the eastern United States and Mexico. British researchers have tracked a decline in several species of butterflies since the 1960s.

"What's happening to butterflies is an indication of what's happening, and what could happen, to many different kinds of plants and animals," Langham says. "It underscores the importance of protecting habitats."

Explore further: Speckled beetle key to saving crops in Ethiopia

3 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

England's butterflies are at risk

Mar 05, 2006

England's butterflies are increasingly at risk, with the number of farmland butterflies declining by 30 percent over the last 10 years, a study finds.

Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?

May 08, 2006

Cold, wet conditions early in the year mean that 2006 is shaping up as the worst year for California's butterflies in almost four decades, according to Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis.

British butterfly popuation is decreasing

Jul 18, 2005

Britain is losing a large portion of its butterfly population, with 7 of 10 species declining during the past 25 years, the Independent reported Monday.

Recommended for you

Speckled beetle key to saving crops in Ethiopia

1 hour ago

(Phys.org) —An invasive weed poses a serious and frightening threat to farming families in Ethiopia, but scientists from a Virginia Tech-led program have unleashed a new weapon in the fight against hunger: ...

New tool to assess noise impact on marine mammals

2 hours ago

A new desktop tool which will allow offshore renewable energy developers to assess the likely impacts of their projects on marine mammal populations has been developed by scientists at the University of St ...

Of bees, mites, and viruses

20 hours ago

Honeybee colonies are dying at alarming rates worldwide. A variety of factors have been proposed to explain their decline, but the exact cause—and how bees can be saved—remains unclear. An article published on August ...

User comments : 0