Climate theory as butterflies go north

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British butterflies are heading north as global temperatures rise, new research from Sheffield University suggests.

The study reveals that climate change is causing certain species to move and adapt to a range of new habitats.

Academics have been trying to understand the role of evolution in helping a species with climate change.

With temperatures rising, many species are moving further north in the UK but this may mean crossing a landscape with increasingly less of their preferred habitat.

But evolutionary change in the ability to use geographically widespread habitats or increased ability to move longer distances can help species to track the warming climate and move northwards, scientists found.

The Brown Argus butterfly is one which is successfully expanding its distribution northwards in the UK and uses a range of distinct habitats.

Using genetic techniques to detect evolutionary change, the researchers were able to show that the colonisation of new sites further north by the Brown Argus had involved significant adaptation during or following colonisation.

Researcher James Buckley said: “These findings are important as understanding the likelihood and speed of such adaptive change is important in determining the rate of species extinction with ongoing climate change.”