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Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming

Nature volume 399, pages 579583 (10 June 1999) | Download Citation



Mean global temperatures have risen this century, and further warming is predicted to continue for the next 50–100 years1,2,3. Some migratory species can respond rapidly to yearly climate variation by altering the timing or destination of migration4, but most wildlife is sedentary and so is incapable of such a rapid response. For these species, responses to the warming trend should be slower, reflected in poleward shifts of the range. Such changes in distribution would occur at the level of the population, stemming not from changes in the pattern of individuals' movements, but from changes in the ratios of extinctions to colonizations at the northern and southern boundaries of the range. A northward range shift therefore occurs when there is net extinction at the southern boundary or net colonization at the northern boundary. However, previous evidence has been limited to a single species5 or to only a portion of the species' range6,7. Here we provide the first large-scale evidence of poleward shifts in entire species' ranges. In a sample of 35 non-migratory European butterflies, 63% have ranges that have shifted to the north by 35–240 km during this century, and only 3% have shifted to the south.

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We thank the huge number of amateur lepidopterists throughout Europe who have collected most of the data. Data sets are from private collectors' records, regional lists and publications, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Lepidopterological Society of Sweden, the Natural History Museum, London (BMNH), the Museum of Zoology of Barcelona, Societat Catalana de Lepidopterologia and Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (Departament de Medi Ambient, Generalitat de Catalunya), Biological Records Centre (ITE, Monks Wood, UK), Butterfly Conservation (UK), Estonian Naturalists' Society, Lepidopterological Society of Finland, and Finnish Museum of Natural History. This project was facilitated by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, P. R. Ackery, D. Blakeley and M. C. Singer. We thank A. N. Cohen, T. Lewinsohn, F. Micheli, W. Porter, J. Roughgarden, M. C. Singer, F.Wagner, R. I. Vane-Wright and M. Willig for comments on the manuscript.

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    • Camille Parmesan

    Present address: Integrative Biology, Patterson Laboratories, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


  1. *National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, California 93101, USA

    • Camille Parmesan
  2. ‡Evolutionary Biology Centre, Section of Zoological Ecology, Uppsala University, Norbyvgen 18 D, S-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

    • Nils Ryrholm
  3. §Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, Can Liro, 08458 Sant Pere de Vilamajor, Barcelona, Spain

    • Constantí Stefanescu
  4. Environmental Research Centre, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

    • Jane K. Hill
    •  & Brian Huntley
  5. ¶Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Chris D. Thomas
  6. #Laboratoire de Systématique Évolutive, Université de Provence, 3 place Victor Hugo, 13331 Marseille, Cedex 3, France

    • Henri Descimon
  7. Finnish Museum of Natural History, Division of Entomology, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 17, Helsinki FIN-00014, Finland

    • Lauri Kaila
    •  & Jaakko Kullberg
  8. **Institute of Zoology and Botany, Estonian Agricultural University, Riia 181, EE-51014 Tartu, Estonia

    • Toomas Tammaru
  9. ††Biogeography and Conservation Laboratory, The Natural History Museum (BMNH), London SW7 5BD, UK

    • W. John Tennent
  10. ‡‡Furzebrook Research Station, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5AS, UK

    • Jeremy A. Thomas
  11. §§Butterfly Conservation, P.O. Box 444, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5YA, UK

    • Martin Warren


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Correspondence to Camille Parmesan.

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