Recent climate change is creating hotspots of butterfly increase and decline across North America
Monday, August 2, 2021
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Lauren L. Berry, Robert D. Phillips-Cosio, Kaylen M. Holman, Jacquelin G. Holmquest, Maureen R. McClung and Matthew D. Moran, Biology, Hendrix College, Conway, AR, Michael Crossley, Olivia M. Smith, Amanda R. Meier, Sofia A. Varriano and William E. Snyder, Entomology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, Jeffrey Glassberg, North American Butterfly Association, Morristown, NJ
Lauren L. Berry
Biology, Hendrix College Conway, AR, USA
Background/Question/Methods Some insect populations are experiencing dramatic declines, endangering the crucial ecosystem services they provide. Yet, other populations appear robust, highlighting the need to better define patterns and underlying drivers of recent change in insect numbers. We examined abundance and biodiversity trends for North American butterflies using a unique citizen-science dataset that has recorded observations of over 8 million butterflies across 456 species, 503 sites, 9 ecoregions, and 26 years. For the diverse population and site level trends, we attempted to determine if various butterfly, site, and environmental traits predicted the response. Results/Conclusions We found great heterogeneity in butterfly species’ abundance trends, aggregating near zero, but with a tendency toward decline. There was strong spatial clustering, however, into regions of increase, decrease, or relative stasis. Recent precipitation and temperature appeared to largely drive these patterns, with butterflies generally declining at increasingly dry and hot sites but increasing at relatively wet or cool sites. In contrast, landscape and butterfly trait predictors had little influence, though abundance trends were slightly more positive around urban areas. Consistent with varying responses by different species, no overall directional change in butterfly species richness or evenness was detected. Overall, a mosaic of butterfly decay and rebound hotspots appeared to largely reflect geographic variability in climate drivers. Ongoing controversy about insect declines might dissipate with a shift in focus to the causes of heterogeneous responses among taxa and sites, with climate change emerging as a key suspect when pollinator communities are broadly impacted.