Buffering climate-driven extinctions in montane butterflies: are there genetic refuges?

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


Climate change is shifting species' distributions, leading to extinctions of cold-adapted species in many parts of their current ranges. However, there is historical evidence that some species survived in post-glacial refuges where climate conditions were buffered, which raises the possibility that these refugial populations may be genetically diverse containing unique genotypes. Local adaptation in these sites might make these populations more resilient to current warming, and this project will study the genetics of retreating populations of montane/northern butterflies in Britain to determine the extent to which refugial populations are locally adapted and buffered from climate change.

The project will examine genetic diversity of three northern butterfly species (mountain ringlet, scotch argus, large heath), testing whether: (1) populations contain unique genetic variation not present in mainland Europe; (2) refugial locations where the study species are predicted to survive future warming contain the highest levels of genetic and phenotypic diversity (e.g. wing colour), indicating local adaptation and greater resilience.

The project builds on existing collaborations between the University of York, Natural England (NE) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to deliver novel scientific research for the protection of UK biodiversity under climate change. The student will receive multi-disciplinary training in field work, genome analyses, quantitative skills, and knowledge exchange through complementary training activities provided by the University and CASE partners. The student will spend a minimum of 3 months with the CASE partners (NE, SNH) gaining experience of translating their research findings into policy development and conservation management.


10 25 50
Description Heredity Fieldwork Grant
Amount £1,500 (GBP)
Organisation The Genetics Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 07/2019
Description NBAF
Amount £17,849 (GBP)
Funding ID NBAF1205 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 04/2020