Moths threatened by climate change could be saved by better water management - Butterfly Conservation

(image: Keith Tailby)
(image: Keith Tailby)

New research from wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation and Northumbria University has shown that moths adapted to cooler conditions are being lost from parts of Britain as a result of climate change.

Around 10% of the macro-moth species in Britain are naturally restricted to areas and habitats with cooler climates. Unsurprisingly, most of these species occur in the northern parts of Britain, but some occur in the south too, especially on hills and moors. Most of these moths have declined in distribution over recent decades, leading to concerns that climate change could be driving these species to extinction and, if so, what can we do to conserve them?

Scientists have now discovered that increasing the amount of water within habitats could be key to saving these species from rising temperatures.

Researchers looked at data gathered over a 40-year period by volunteers of Butterfly Conservation’s National Moth Recording Scheme. The results showed that, on average, cool-adapted moths have retreated towards the north-west, tracking the changing climate, with some species dying out completely in more southerly and easterly parts.

These local extinctions were most likely in the warmest parts of Britain. However, the study also showed that, particularly where temperatures were high, the threat to the moths was greatly reduced where annual rainfall was also high. This is believed to be because the plants that the moths’ caterpillars rely upon for food survive better when there is more rainfall.

The research highlights the importance of considering water availability in the landscape as part of our response to climate change. Changes in habitat management such as reducing overgrazing, increasing tree cover, slowing rivers, and blocking drainage ditches on peatlands could help retain water and benefit moths and other wildlife, as well as increasing carbon capture and reducing flooding.

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Posted On: 22/03/2023

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