Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 695-723

First online:

Assessing the vulnerability of European butterflies to climate change using multiple criteria

  • Risto K. HeikkinenAffiliated withResearch Programme for Biodiversity, Research Department, Finnish Environment Institute Email author 
  • , Miska LuotoAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Oulu
  • , Niko LeikolaAffiliated withNature Division, Expert Services Department, Finnish Environment Institute
  • , Juha PöyryAffiliated withResearch Programme for Biodiversity, Research Department, Finnish Environment Institute
  • , Josef SetteleAffiliated withDepartment of Community Ecology, UFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
  • , Otakar KudrnaAffiliated withNaturmuseum Südtirol
  • , Mathieu MarmionAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Oulu
  • , Stefan FronzekAffiliated withResearch Programme for Global Change, Research Department, Finnish Environment Institute
  • , Wilfried ThuillerAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, UMR CNRS 5553, Université Joseph Fourier

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Vulnerability of 100 European butterfly species to climate change was assessed using 13 different criteria and data on species distributions, climate, land cover and topography from 1,608 grid squares 30′ × 60′ in size, and species characteristics increasing the susceptibility to climate change. Four bioclimatic model-based criteria were developed for each species by comparing the present-day distribution and climatic suitability of the occupied grid cells with projected distribution and suitability in the future using the HadCM3-A2 climate scenario for 2051–2080. The proportions of disadvantageous land cover types (bare areas, water, snow and ice, artificial surfaces) and cultivated and managed land in the occupied grid squares and their surroundings were measured to indicate the amount of unfavourable land cover and dispersal barriers for butterflies, and topographical heterogeneity to indicate the availability of potential climatic refugia. Vulnerability was also assessed based on species dispersal ability, geographical localization and habitat specialization. Northern European species appeared to be amongst the most vulnerable European butterflies. However, there is much species-to-species variation, and species appear to be threatened due to different combinations of critical characteristics. Inclusion of additional criteria, such as life-history species characteristics, topography and land cover to complement the bioclimatic model-based species vulnerability measures can significantly deepen the assessments of species susceptibility to climate change.


Bioclimatic model Climate change Land cover Lepidoptera Range shift Species characteristics Susceptibility Topographical heterogeneity