Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Massachusetts butterflies move north as climate warms

Date:
August 19, 2012
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
A new study shows that, over the past 19 years, a warming climate has been reshaping Massachusetts butterfly communities. Subtropical and warm-climate species -- many of which were rare or absent in Massachusetts as recently as the late 1980s -- show sharp increases in abundance. At the same time, more than three quarters of northerly species -- species with a range centered north of Boston -- are now declining in Massachusetts, many of them rapidly.

The giant swallowtail, a Southern butterfly that is usually only seen as an occasional stray in New England, has been present in high numbers in Massachusetts.
Credit: Frank S. Model

The authors of a Harvard study published August 19 in Nature Climate Change gathered their data from an unlikely source -- the trip accounts of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club. During the past 19 years, the amateur naturalist group has logged species counts on nearly 20,000 expeditions throughout Massachusetts. Their records fill a crucial gap in the scientific record.

Once analyzed, the data show a clear trend. "Over the past 19 years, a warming climate has been reshaping Massachusetts butterfly communities," notes Greg Breed, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest in Petersham.

Subtropical and warm-climate species such as the giant swallowtail and zabulon skipper -- many of which were rare or absent in Massachusetts as recently as the late 1980s -- show the sharpest increases. At the same time, more than three-quarters of northerly species (species with a range centered north of Boston) are now declining in Massachusetts, many of them rapidly. Most impacted are the species that overwinter as eggs or small larvae, indicating that these overwintering stages may be much more sensitive to drought or lack of snow cover.

The study creates new questions for managing threatened species. "For most butterfly species, climate change seems to be a stronger change-agent than habitat loss," says Breed. "Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming."

Breed points to the frosted elfin, a species that receives formal habitat protection from the state. This southerly distributed butterfly is now one of the most rapidly increasing species in Massachusetts, with an estimated 1,000 percent increase since 1992. Some of this increase may be due to habitat protections, Breed allows. But over the same period, atlantis and aphrodite fritillaries, historically common summer butterflies in Massachusetts, have declined by nearly 90 percent -- yet these northerly species remain unprotected.

The kind of information collected by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club is becoming increasingly valuable to scientists and land managers alike. Elizabeth Crone, senior ecologist at the Harvard Forest and another co-author on the study, notes, "Careful datasets from amateur naturalists play a valuable role in our understanding of species dynamics. Scientists constantly ask questions, but sometimes the data just isn't there to provide the answers, and we can't go back in time to collect it. This study would not have been possible without the dedication and knowledge of the data collectors on those 19,000 club trips."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Greg A. Breed, Sharon Stichter, Elizabeth E. Crone. Climate-driven changes in northeastern US butterfly communities. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1663

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Massachusetts butterflies move north as climate warms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153741.htm>.
Harvard University. (2012, August 19). Massachusetts butterflies move north as climate warms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153741.htm
Harvard University. "Massachusetts butterflies move north as climate warms." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153741.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) A new report shows rates of two foodborne infections increased in the U.S. in recent years, while salmonella actually dropped 9 percent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins