Massive Shift in Butterfly Populations Likely Due to Climate Change
By Deena Shanker, Revmodo.com
If rising temperatures, spreading droughts and massive blackouts weren’t enough evidence of climate change, scientists have noticed another disturbing sign that the Earth is changing: the altered paths, and often demise, of different species. From Australia’s tropical fish to the Pacific Coast’s great white sharks and the Northeast’s Bicknell’s thrush, climate change is impacting animals all over the world, causing their numbers to drop precipitously in many cases.
The latest victims are the butterflies of Massachusetts. Using data collected by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club on 19,000 club trips, scientists are seeing major changes in the state’s butterfly populations. In the latest issue of Nature Climate Change, the lead study author, Greg Breed, said, “Over the past 19 years, a warming climate has been reshaping Massachusetts butterfly communities.”
The study found that more than three-quarters of the species found north of Boston, known as northerly species, are undergoing major population losses. Other butterfly populations, meanwhile, are growing. For example, researchers pointed to the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, whose numbers are increasing “mostly because it switched from its native host plant to an invasive host species — Plantago lanceolata, narrow-leaf plantain — that’s much more common than its native host plant.”
The scientists noted climate change is most likely playing a larger role in these changes than habitat loss, but emphasized that measures to protect habitats should not be lifted as they are likely still helpful.
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