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Temporal variation in responses of species to four decades of climate warming

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Publication details

JournalGlobal Change Biology
DatePublished - Aug 2012
Issue number8
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)2439-2447
Original languageEnglish


Many species are expanding at their leading-edge range boundaries in response to climate warming. Species are known to respond individualistically to climate change, but there has been little consideration of whether responses are consistent over time. We compared responses of 37 southerly distributed British butterflies over two study periods, first between 19701982 and 19951999 and then between 19951999 and 20052009, when mean annual temperature increased regionally by 0.03 similar to degrees C similar to yr-1 (a significant rate of increase) and 0.01 similar to degrees C similar to yr-1(a nonsignificant increase) respectively. Our study species might be expected to benefit from climate warming. We measured three responses to climate to investigate this; changes in range margin, distribution area and abundance. In general, the responses of species were inconsistent over time. Species that increased their distribution areas during the first period tended to do so again during the second period, but the relationship was weak. Changes in range margins and abundance were not consistent. In addition, only 5/37 species showed qualitatively similar responses in all three response variables over time (three species increased and two species declined in all variables in both periods). Overall rates of range expansion and distribution area change were significantly greater in the second study period, despite the lower rate of warming, perhaps due to species exploiting climate-distribution lags remaining from the earlier, warmer period. However, there was a significantly greater decline in abundance during the second study period, so range expansions northwards were not necessarily accompanied by increases in distribution area and/or abundance. Hence, species ranges have been thinning as they have expanded northwards. The idiosyncratic responses of these species likely reflect the balance of climatic and habitat drivers of species distribution and abundance changes.

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