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


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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Figure 1: Twentieth-century changes in the range of Pararge aegeria in Great Britain, plotted by presence in Ordnance Survey 10 × 10 km grid squares.
Figure 2: Distribution of a non-shifting species, Carterocephalus palaemon.
Figure 3: A northward-shifting species, Argynnis paphia, stable at its southern boundary and extending at its northern edge.
Figure 4: A northward-shifting species, Heodes tityrus, retracting at its southern boundary and extending at its northern boundary.


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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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Correspondence to Camille Parmesan.

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Parmesan, C., Ryrholm, N., Stefanescu, C. et al. Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming. Nature 399, 579–583 (1999).

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