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Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale


Climate changes have profound effects on the distribution of numerous plant and animal species1,2,3. However, whether and how different taxonomic groups are able to track climate changes at large spatial scales is still unclear. Here, we measure and compare the climatic debt accumulated by bird and butterfly communities at a European scale over two decades (1990–2008). We quantified the yearly change in community composition in response to climate change for 9,490 bird and 2,130 butterfly communities distributed across Europe4. We show that changes in community composition are rapid but different between birds and butterflies and equivalent to a 37 and 114 km northward shift in bird and butterfly communities, respectively. We further found that, during the same period, the northward shift in temperature in Europe was even faster, so that the climatic debts of birds and butterflies correspond to a 212 and 135 km lag behind climate. Our results indicate both that birds and butterflies do not keep up with temperature increase and the accumulation of different climatic debts for these groups at national and continental scales.

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Figure 1: Temporal trend of CTI and temperature in Europe from 1990 to 2008 (± standard error of the mean in dashed lines).
Figure 2: Spatial trend of CTI and temperature in Europe.
Figure 3: European variations in the temporal trend of bird and butterfly CTI.


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We thank all skilled volunteer bird- and butterfly-watchers involved in national monitoring programmes: altogether, we estimate that more than 1,500,000 man-hours have been spent to conduct the bird and butterfly monitoring surveys (this estimate only corresponds to field work) necessary to this study. We thank C. D. Thomas for his comments on the manuscript. We thank the following partnerships and sources of funding from national and international organizations that have supported this project. V.D. received funding from the Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité (FRB, research projects FABIO and PHYBIO) and CNRS. French BBS is hosted by the CERSP funded by MNHN-CNRS-UPMC and the French Ministry in charge of Ecology (MEEDDTL). J.S. and O.S. received funding from the European projects ALARM (contract GOCE-CT-2003-506675), MACIS (contract 044399) and STEP (contract 244090–STEP–CP–FP), and from the project CLIMIT (funded by DLR-BMBF (Germany), NERC and DEFRA (UK), ANR (France), Formas (Sweden) and Swedish EPA (Sweden) through the FP6 BiodivERsA Eranet. J.R. and Z.V. were supported by the academic grant KJB601110919. L.B., S.H. and C.S. received financial support from projects CSD 2008-00040 and CGL-BOS-2009-08798 from the Spanish Ministry of Education and from the Science European SCALES project (FP7-226852). The Swedish BBS was supported by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the County Administrative Boards, and the BECC and CAnMove research initiatives at Lund University. The UK BBS is funded by a partnership between BTO, RSPB and JNCC. Funding of the Dutch bird and butterfly monitoring schemes was provided by grants from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation of the Netherlands and the Dutch National Data Authority for Nature. C.V.T. thanks SOVON colleagues, in particular A. J. van Dijk, for processing the Dutch bird data. The UKBMS is funded by a multi-agency consortium led by Defra, and including the Countryside Council for Wales, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage. The butterfly monitoring scheme in Finnish agricultural landscapes is funded by The Finnish Environment Institute and the Ministry of the Environment. The Catalan bird and butterfly monitoring schemes are supported by the Environmental Department of the Catalan Government.

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V.D. carried out all statistical analyses and wrote the paper. V.D., C.v.S. and F.J. designed the general study. All other authors contributed equally to data collection, formulations of theoretical expectations, writing and revision of the paper.

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Correspondence to Vincent Devictor.

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Devictor, V., van Swaay, C., Brereton, T. et al. Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale. Nature Clim Change 2, 121–124 (2012).

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