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Insects on the move are trying to escape the heat, but many have nowhere to go

By
Brooks Hays
While some butterfly species have expanded their range by adapting to new habitat, the silver-studded blue remains confined to rare heathland and grassland habitats. Photo by Ian Kirk/Wikimedia Commons
While some butterfly species have expanded their range by adapting to new habitat, the silver-studded blue remains confined to rare heathland and grassland habitats. Photo by Ian Kirk/Wikimedia Commons

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Most studies looking at the links between climate change, migration patterns and the shifting ranges of vulnerable species have focused on larger animals, usually birds and mammals.

As temperatures rise, insects are also on the move. According to a new study, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, many of these insects are having trouble finding new places to live.

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Researchers in Britain plotted the paths of insects moving from the southern half to the northern half of the island nation over the last several decades, in addition to analyzing their ability to successfully colonize new territory.

The survey of 25 million recorded sightings of 300 different insect species across Britain showed some migrating species are struggling to keep pace with shifting climate conditions.

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"To become established somewhere new, animals need the right kinds of vegetation, to provide shelter, food and places to breed," lead study author Phil Platts, professor in the department of environment and geography at the University of York, said in a news release. "For many of Britain's insects, the specific resources they need are not abundant enough in the right places to take full advantage of the new climatic conditions."

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Data suggests the Roesel's bush-cricket is having limited success moving into new territory, adapting to a variety of habitats, including grassy roadside shoulders that have been left uncut. However, research showed the more specialized bog bush cricket is struggling to expand its range.

Meanwhile, the emperor hawker and migrant hawker, a pair of dragonfly species, have been moving northward at an average rate of approximately 72 feet per day. Unfortunately, the scarce chaser's escape routes are mostly blocked by unsuitable vegetation and polluted waterways.

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The comma butterfly, a generalist, has rapidly expanded across Britain, adapting to a variety of habitats, including gardens, woodlands and hedgerows. The range of the silver-studded blue insect remains confined to rare heathland and grassland habitats.

"Britain has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since the 1970s," Platts said. "That might not sound like much, but it's the difference in average annual temperature between London and Edinburgh. Warmer ecosystems are typically more biodiverse, and so relatively cool regions could gain more species than they lose under this amount of warming, assuming there is habitat for the new arrivals."

With the increase in warming and the increase in the likelihood of extreme weather, species are on the move but struggling to match the pace at which the climate is shifting.

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The authors of the latest study suggest scientists and wildlife managers need to account for this need to move and adapt when developing conservation strategies.

"As a society we need to do two things: first and foremost, mitigate the pace of change by slashing our carbon emissions," said senior study author Chris Thomas, director of the Leverhulme Center for Anthropocene Biodiversity. "And second, since at least two degrees of warming is more or less inevitable already, we should ensure that habitats are diverse and well-connected, so that our wildlife can track the conditions that suit them best."

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