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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Stephen G Willis

Warren, MS, Hill, JK, Thomas, JA, Asher, J, Fox, R, Huntley, B, Roy, DB, Telfer, MG, Jeffcoate, S, Harding, P, Jeffcoate, G, Willis, SG, Greatorex-Davies, JN, Moss, D & Thomas, CD (2001). Rapid responses of British butterflies to opposing forces of climate and habitat change. Nature 414(6859): 65-69.

Author(s) from Durham


Habitat degradation and climate change are thought to be altering the
distributions and abundances of animals and plants throughout the
world, but their combined impacts have not been assessed for any
species assemblage(1-4). Here we evaluated changes in the distribution
sizes and abundances of 46 species of butterflies that approach their
northern climatic range margins in Britain-where changes in climate and
habitat are opposing forces. These insects might be expected to have
responded positively to climate warming over the past 30 years, yet
three-quarters of them declined: negative responses to habitat loss
have outweighed positive responses to climate warming. Half of the
species that were mobile and habitat generalists increased their
distribution sites over this period (consistent with a climate
explanation), whereas the other generalists and 89% of the habitat
specialists declined in distribution size (consistent with habitat
limitation). Changes in population abundances closely matched changes
in distributions. The dual forces of habitat modification and climate
change are likely to cause specialists to decline, leaving biological
communities with reduced numbers of species and dominated by mobile and
widespread habitat generalists.