Abundance changes and habitat availability drive species’ responses to climate change

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Mair, L ; Hill, J K ; Fox, R ; Botham , M ; Brereton, T ; Thomas, C D
  • Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

There is little consensus as to why there is so much variation in the rates at which different species’ geographic ranges expand in response to climate warming[1,2]. Here, we show for British butterfly species that the relative importance of species’ abundance trends and habitat availability vary over time. Species with high habitat availability expanded more rapidly from the 1970s to mid-1990s, when abundances were generally stable, whereas habitat availability effects were confined to the subset of species with stable abundances from the mid-1990s to 2009, when abundance trends were generally declining. This suggests that stable (or positive) abundance trends are a prerequisite for range expansion. Given that species’ abundance trends vary over time[3] for non-climatic as well as climatic reasons, assessment of abundance trends will help improve predictions of species’ responses to climate change, and help understand the likely success of different conservation strategies for facilitating their expansions.
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