Get access

Effects of drought on contrasting insect and plant species in the UK in the mid-1990s


  • Present address: English Nature, 1 Southampton Road, Lyndhurst, SO43 7BU, UK.

    † Present address: Bentley Wood Trust, 66 Queen Alexandra Road, Salisbury, SP2 9JZ, UK.

Dr M.D. Morecroft, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Oxford University Field Laboratory, Wytham, Oxford, OX2 8QJ, UK.


Abstract Aim We examined the effects of drought in the summer of 1995 and the subsequent year on contrasting species of plants, moths, butterflies and ground beetles. We tested whether population increases were associated with: (a) species of warm environments (b) species of dry environments (c) species with rapid reproduction (d) species with high rates of dispersal.

Location The study was conducted at Environmental Change Network (ECN) sites throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Methods Climate monitoring, recording of plant species in permanent plots, transect walking for butterflies, light trapping for moths and pitfall trapping for carabid beetles were used.

Results There was an overall increase in the number of species recorded in permanent vegetation plots between 1994 and 1996, principally among the annual and biennial vascular plants, probably as a result of gap colonization in grasslands. Most butterfly and moth species increased between 1994 and 1995. Among the butterflies, a southern distribution and high mobility were associated with species tending to increase throughout the period 1994–96, whereas declining species tended to have a northern distribution. A similar number of carabid beetle species increased as decreased in the period 1994–96; decreasing species tended to be associated with lower temperatures and wetter soils.


Current climate change scenarios indicate that the incidence of droughts in the United Kingdom will increase. A series of dry, hot summers could lead to a rapid change in the population of some species although others, including many plants, may be more resilient. This may lead to complex changes in ecosystems and needs to be considered in planning conservation strategies.