Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


Many species currently survive as localised, refugial populations in regions where they used to be more widespread under more favourable past climatic conditions. These species survive in localised habitats and/or microclimates that are atypical of the surrounding region; for example, a cold-adapted species in Britain might survive on a locally cold, north-facing site when the climate warms. Refugia have been extremely important in allowing species to survive past climatic changes, and are likely to be so again under anthropogenic climate change. Despite this, the local conditions that support population refugia are poorly understood. Thus we have little idea of the attributes (locations, habitats, microclimates) of sites where species may persist in future as the climate changes. Understanding these attributes is vital for informing future conservation policies as well as for developing a deeper fundamental scientific understanding of the dynamics of species' geographic distributions.

We will take advantage of the opportunity presented by anthropogenic climate change to observe the creation of refugial populations directly, by studying four species of northerly-distributed butterflies in Britain. Butterflies are ideal study species for this project because there are excellent distribution records in Britain over the past four decades of climate change, and because local microclimate and microhabitat conditions affect all butterfly life stages, from birth to death. We will re-survey sites in Britain for which we have historical distribution data since the 1970s, and which we re-surveyed in 2004-05, to determine where species have survived, and where they have become extinct. We will use dynamic population models that incorporate environmental information for species to identify the local microclimatic and habitat characteristics of locations where populations have survived since the onset of anthropogenic climate change in the 1970s. We will examine the generality of our butterfly findings by studying climate refugial formation in other northern invertebrates. We will then use our models to project the consequences of future climatic changes for species, to the year 2100, and determine the degree to which refugia coincide with the locations of existing protected areas in Britain.

The proposed work will provide the first investigation of, and predictive models for, the attributes of locations that promote population persistence in range retreating species. The project will address fundamental questions about the dynamics of species' ranges under climate change, as well as producing results of considerable practical value for policy makers. It will open up a new avenue of research on understanding the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, and provide a concrete body of scientific evidence to inform the debate on developing effective conservation strategies under climate change.

Planned Impact

Our proposed research will identify the locations with the coolest, wettest and otherwise most extreme environments in northern and upland Britain, where species threatened by climate change in Britain will experience the highest chances of survival. Our dynamic models will predict the locations where such species are most likely to survive future climate change - at a landscape scale. This is of direct concern to all agencies charged with the conservation, management or monitoring of GB biodiversity. Our Impact Plan will build on the fundamental science of our main project to develop effective evidence-based adaptation policies and practical conservation recommendations of direct relevance to these agencies.

1. RESEARCH USERS AND THEIR REQUIREMENTS. The output of our research will have direct relevance in the UK to Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Forestry Commission and Defra; and to National Parks Authorities, Butterfly Conservation (BC), Buglife, RSPB, National Trust (NT for Scotland), Plantlife and BSBI, Scottish Wildlife Trust and county Trusts in England and Wales.

Internationally, it is relevant to European/Global government and intergovernmental bodies/frameworks, e.g., EU, UNEP, CoP, and to European/Global NGOs/Conservation Charities, such as Butterfly Conservation Europe, Birdlife, IUCN, WWF etc.

All of these organisations are interested in developing conservation strategies that will be robust under climate change. However, they are constrained by a lack of evidence to provide firm foundations for the development of conservation policies and practical actions.

Government and NGOs typically require basic results to be re-framed in a manner directly relevant to conservation policies and actions. We propose to do this through an active programme of collaboration between researchers and stakeholders.

a) Co-development of research and publications. We will continue our strategy of co-development and co-authorship of scientific papers with Project Partner Butterfly Conservation, through face-to-face and electronic meetings. Success at this is exemplified by our track record of joint publication of scientific papers with members of government agencies and national conservation organisations.

b) Assessment of need through a working group. The lead PI and project team will organise a Knowledge Exchange workshop with 20 stakeholders, including representatives from Project Partner Butterfly Conservation, SNH, Natural England, NRW, JNCC, Forestry Commission, Defra, Buglife, RSPB, National Trust (Scotland), Plantlife, BSBI, WWF, UNEP, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and County Trusts, to present results and to develop a structure for how stakeholders would like the key results to be summarised and framed for maximum impact within their organisations and memberships.

c) Production of a report to summarise findings according to stakeholder needs. The report will identify the most important locations and attributes of potential climate-change refugia for threatened species in GB. This will inform appropriate adaptation actions to ensure favourable conservation status of habitats in these regions.

d) Publication and presentation of report to stakeholders. The report will be published in a form appropriate to stakeholders, the exact form depending on the advice of stakeholders during the workshop. We will also provide summaries in other formats (talks, short articles for in-house magazines, etc.).

e) Wider dissemination to the general public. Results will be disseminated through electronic and printed media. All partners have effective press offices and individual commitment to dissemination.


10 25 50
Description Understanding that extreme population dynamic events associated with extreme weather have either not been (in the case of Lepidoptera) or or have had only limited (in the case of birds) effects on the long term population trajectories of species, contrary to scientific and popular expectation.
Exploitation Route Facilitating understanding of biodiversity responses to climate change, potentially valuable to NGOs, government and others.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Discussion of impacts of climate change on the survival of conservation of climate-threatened species with UK conservation agencies.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services