Sunday, May 9, 2021

Butterflies move north in warming climate


A study out of Harvard University has found that butterflies, such as the giant swallowtail, that are normally seen in Massachusetts only as an occasional stray, have been counted by amateur naturalists in much greater numbers, the Harvard Gazette reports, citing a study published in the latest edition of Nature Climate Change.

“Over the past 19 years, a warming climate has been reshaping Massachusetts butterfly communities,” the article quoted Greg Breed, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, as saying.

Data from amateurs fills a crucial gap

Data were collected by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club, a group of naturalists that pooled together nearly 20,000 expeditions of counting butterfly species throughout the state over the last 19 years.

This type of information is becoming more and more valuable to actual scientists. Elizabeth Crone, senior ecologist at the Harvard Forest and another co-author on the study, said, “Careful datasets from amateur naturalists play a valuable role in our understanding of species dynamics. Scientists constantly ask questions, but sometimes the data just isn’t there to provide the answers, and we can’t go back in time to collect it. This study would not have been possible without the dedication and knowledge of the data collectors on those 19,000 club trips.”

What it means for the butterflies

The study suggests that climate change is a bigger factor for butterfly populations than is habitat loss. Dr Breed said that while habitat protection may benefit certain species, others show a response that appears to nullify any gains from habitat protection.

“Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming,” he said.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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