Boys trying to move north to adapt to climate change in the UK could be helped by identifying areas where habitat restoration can provide them with a smoother journey.
New research from the University of Liverpool, Rothamsted Research, Butterfly Conservation and the University of Reading have combined real-world data collected by volunteers with new computer simulations to predict the movement of different moth species in a changing climate.
These forecasts have shown that farmland and suburban moths, which are crucial both for pollination and as food for birds and bats, have difficulty navigating landscapes. This helped scientists identify landscape features such as harsh hills that seemed to slow their movement.
Dr Jenny Hodgson, lead author of the University of Liverpool, said: “These new computer models will help us target habitat restoration in the most efficient places to help species adapt to climate change by changing their range across the country.”
Professor Tom Oliver, an ecologist at the University of Reading and co-author of the study, said: “Previous studies have shown how severe habitat fragmentation in our UK landscapes prevents species from changing habitat depending on climate. We urgently need targeted habitat restoration to help species adapt to climate change.
“Using such predictions will allow us to effectively create endangered highways, helping moth species reach new, more suitable regions to survive faster.”
There is widespread concern that UK wildlife will not be able to track climate change if habitat is too small or insufficiently connected. However, it has not yet been possible to predict the movement of species through landscapes in the face of climate change.
The study, published today (Friday, May 20) in the journal Biology of global changeshowed that moth species found on farmland and suburban habitats move only north in some British landscapes, putting them at greater risk.
The team found that landscapes with hills or different temperatures acted as bottlenecks, slowing the movement of farmland and suburban scoops. The reasons for this are unclear, although it may be that the hills are a physical barrier to spread, or that the hills contain fewer hedges, nectar sources and larval food plants.
Data on the movement of 54 moth species distributed in the south since 1985 have been collected from the Rothamsted Research Light network and the National Moth Recording Scheme to verify computer simulation results.
Dr Chris Shortal, an entomologist at Rothamsted Research and co-author of the study, said: “The limited expansion of farm moths is surprising and shows that such relatively tolerant species cannot be considered improving the ability of species to move through these landscapes ”.
Dr Zoe Randle, Senior Butterfly Protection Officer and co-author of the study, said: “The findings of this work have great potential to maximize the impact of conservation, habitat restoration and tree planting actions, targeting these environmental improvements in the right places. We are captivated by biodiversity and the climate crisis, time is of the essence, and the results of this study can really help make a difference in helping moths and other species in these communities that are expanding due to climate change. ”
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