Scientists are considering relocation of cold-loving butterflies in the face of accelerating climate change

Climate change is going to alter the face of the Earth. As climate heats up, cold loving animals will find it increasingly more difficult to survive. Some will migrate to colder regions, but others may not have an opportunity to do so. Now scientists from the University of York say that cold-loving butterflies on mountain tops will have nowhere to go and will probably have to be relocated.

Nicholl’s ringlet. Mountain species of butterflies will be pushed up and will not have anywhere to go, becoming isolated and vulnerable. Image credit: Charles J Sharp via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Conservation is a tricky subject. We want to preserve the diversity of species, but we also do not want to alter entire ecosystems to serve those endangered animals. Can you relocate them without causing issues of alien species? Thing is that if we do nothing animals that are isolated in the mountains will have nowhere to go and become extinct. Such butterflies in Europe as the yellow-spotted ringlet, bright-eyed ringlet and the dewy ringlet live high in the mountains due to their cold-loving nature and pretty much don’t have anywhere to go – there nowhere colder they could shelter.

Scientists are thinking about moving these butterflies from hills that will eventually become too warm to new locations in  Scotland, Scandinavia and the Alps. Melissa Minter, lead author of the study, said: “Genetic diversity is so important to the survival of a species, particularly in the face of climate change, because the greater the variation in genes, the more likely is that individuals in a population will have the genetic capacity to adapt to changes in the environment.” Scientists understand that relocation would be a controversial step, but when it comes to conservation of genetic diversity our options are extremely limited.

Scientists came to these conclusions by analysing the DNA of populations of mountain ringlet butterflies across Europe. They traced how the butterfly was distributed throughout the continent during the last ice age and found that because isolated populations form, they are very different. Therefore, now populations of the mountain butterfly in England are particularly genetically diverse. All of this diversity could be lost as the climate changes.

Temperatures are rising already, but the very top of the mountains and hills is still comparatively cooler. And so butterflies are moving higher. But that’s the thing with mountains – they have a limited height, which means that very soon these butterflies will find that they have nowhere else to go.

Relocation is always going to be a controversial step. It is sort of an interference into the normal course of nature. But the other option is to just allow hat genetic diversity to disappear, which is an even sadder option.


Source: University of York

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