Recent evidence for the climate change threat to Lepidoptera and other insects
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Climate change is now estimated by some biologists to be the main threat to biodiversity, but doubts persist regarding which species are most at risk, and how best to adapt conservation management. Insects are expected to be highly responsive to climate change, because they have short life cycles which are strongly influenced by temperature. Insects also constitute the most diverse taxonomic group, carrying out biotic interactions of importance for ecological functioning and ecosystem services, so their responses to climate change are likely to be of considerable wider ecological significance. However, a review of recent published evidence of observed and modelled effects of climate change in ten high-ranking journals shows that comparatively few such studies have focused on insects. The majority of these studies are on Lepidoptera, because of the existence of detailed contemporary and historical datasets. These biases in published information may influence conclusions regarding the threat of climate change to insect biodiversity. Assessment of the vulnerability of insect species protected by the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats also emphasises that most information is available for the Lepidoptera. In the absence of the necessary data to carry out detailed assessments of the likely effects of climate change on most threatened insects, we consider how autecological studies may help to illuminate the potential vulnerability of species, and draw preliminary conclusions about the priorities for insect conservation and research in a changing climate.