SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • habitat breadth;
  • habitat specificity;
  • niche breadth;
  • plant successional stages;
  • range expansion

Abstract

Climate warming threatens the survival of species at their warm, trailing-edge range boundaries but also provides opportunities for the ecological release of populations at the cool, leading edges of their distributions. Thus, as the climate warms, leading-edge populations are expected to utilize an increased range of habitat types, leading to larger population sizes and range expansion. Here, we test the hypothesis that the habitat associations of British butterflies have expanded over three decades of climate warming. We characterize the habitat breadth of 27 southerly distributed species from 77 monitoring transects between 1977 and 2007 by considering changes in densities of butterflies across 11 habitat types. Contrary to expectation, we find that 20 of 27 (74%) butterfly species showed long-term contractions in their habitat associations, despite some short-term expansions in habitat breadth in warmer-than-usual years. Thus, we conclude that climatic warming has ameliorated habitat contractions caused by other environmental drivers to some extent, but that habitat degradation continues to be a major driver of reductions in habitat breadth and population density of butterflies.