Current temporal trends in moth abundance are counter to predicted effects of climate change in an assemblage of subarctic forest moths

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Abstract

Changes in climate are influencing the distribution and abundance of the world's biota, with significant consequences for biological diversity and ecosystem processes. Recent work has raised concern that populations of moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) may be particularly susceptible to population declines under environmental change. Moreover, effects of climate change may be especially pronounced in high latitude ecosystems. Here, we examine population dynamics in an assemblage of subarctic forest moths in Finnish Lapland to assess current trajectories of population change. Moth counts were made continuously over a period of 32 years using light traps. From 456 species recorded, 80 were sufficiently abundant for detailed analyses of their population dynamics. Climate records indicated rapid increases in temperature and winter precipitation at our study site during the sampling period. However, 90% of moth populations were stable (57%) or increasing (33%) over the same period of study. Nonetheless, current population trends do not appear to reflect positive responses to climate change. Rather, time-series models illustrated that the per capita rates of change of moth species were more frequently associated negatively than positively with climate change variables, even as their populations were increasing. For example, the per capita rates of change of 35% of microlepidoptera were associated negatively with climate change variables. Moth life-history traits were not generally strong predictors of current population change or associations with climate change variables. However, 60% of moth species that fed as larvae on resources other than living vascular plants (e.g. litter, lichen, mosses) were associated negatively with climate change variables in time-series models, suggesting that such species may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. Overall, populations of subarctic forest moths in Finland are performing better than expected, and their populations appear buffered at present from potential deleterious effects of climate change by other ecological forces.

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