Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 15, Issue 1–2, pp 233–240 | Cite as

Butterfly abundance in a warming climate: patterns in space and time are not congruent

  • Nick J. B. Isaac
  • Marco Girardello
  • Tom M. Brereton
  • David B. Roy
Original Paper


We present a model of butterfly abundance on transects in England. The model indicates a significant role for climate, but the direction of association is counter to expectation: butterfly population density is higher on sites with a cooler climate. However, the effect is highly heterogeneous, with one in five species displaying a net positive association. We use this model to project the population-level effects of climate warming for the year 2080, using a medium emissions scenario. The results suggest that most populations and species will decline markedly, but that the total number of butterflies will increase as communities become dominated by a few common species. In particular, Maniola jurtina is predicted to make up nearly half of all butterflies on UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) transects by 2080. These results contradict the accepted wisdom that most insect populations will grow as the climate becomes warmer. Indeed, our predictions contrast strongly with those derived from inter-annual variation in abundance, emphasizing that we lack a mechanistic understanding about the factors driving butterfly population dynamics over large spatial and temporal scales. Our study underscores the difficulty of predicting future population trends and reveals the naivety of simple space-for-time substitutions, which our projections share with species distribution modelling.


Biotic homogenisation Butterflies Climate change Climate envelope Mixed models Niche Space-for-time substitution UK butterfly monitoring scheme 



We are indebted to the hundreds of volunteers who collect data on the UKBMS. We are grateful to Stephen Freeman, Tom Oliver, Helen Roy and Jeremy Thomas for advice and discussion, and to two anonymous reviewers who provided insightful comments on previous versions of this manuscript. NJBI is supported by a NERC fellowship (NE/D009448/2). DR was partly funded by the Biodiversa project CLIMIT (Settele and Kuhn 2009; Thomas et al. 2009) within FP6 of the European Commission (EC). The UKBMS is funded by a multi-agency consortium led by Defra, and including CCW, JNCC, FC, NE, NERC, NIEA and SNH.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nick J. B. Isaac
    • 1
  • Marco Girardello
    • 1
  • Tom M. Brereton
    • 2
  • David B. Roy
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology and HydrologyWallingfordUK
  2. 2.Butterfly ConservationWarehamUK

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