This study assessed potential changes in the distributions of Australian butterfly species in response to global warming. The bioclimatic program, BIOCLIM, was used to determine the current climatic ranges of 77 butterfly species restricted to Australia. We found that the majority of these species had fairly wide climatic ranges in comparison to other taxa, with only 8% of butterfly species having a mean annual temperature range spanning less than 3 °C.
The potential changes in the distributions of 24 butterfly species under four climate change scenarios for 2050 were also modelled using BIOCLIM. Results suggested that even species with currently wide climatic ranges may still be vulnerable to climate change; under a very conservative climate change scenario (with a temperature increase of 0.8–1.4 °C by 2050) 88% of species distributions decreased, and 54% of species distributions decreased by at least 20%. Under an extreme scenario (temperature increase of 2.1–3.9 °C by 2050) 92% of species distributions decreased, and 83% of species distributions decreased by at least 50%. Furthermore, the proportion of the current range that was contained within the predicted range decreased from an average of 63% under a very conservative scenario to less than 22% under the most extreme scenario.
By assessing the climatic ranges that species are currently exposed to, the extent of potential changes in distributions in response to climate change and details of their life histories, we identified species whose characteristics may make them particularly vulnerable to climate change in the future.