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Some species of butterflies likely to be less adaptable to climate change

Those at higher elevations may fare poorly

Some butterfly species could adapt to climate change better than others, according to a new study involving researchers at Oregon State University.

After a five-year study of 32 butterfly species in a Mediterranean mountain range in Spain, researchers suggest that butterfly species that emerge later in the year or fly higher in the mountains have evolved to deal with a shorter window of opportunity to reproduce, and may far worse in a warming climate.

'We're already expecting localized extinctions of about one third of butterfly species, so we need to understand how climate change will affect those that survive,' said Javier Illan, with OSU's Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. 'This research makes it clear that some will do a lot better than others.' 

The research was done by Illan's group at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, and published in the journal Ecological Entomology.

Butterflies may be particularly sensitive to a changing climate, Illan says, and make a good model to study the broader range of ecological effects linked to insects. Their flight dates are a relevant indicator of future responses to climate change. 'Insects and plants are at the base of the food pyramid and are extremely important, but they often get less attention when we are studying the ecological impacts of climate change,' he says.