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Butterfly Species Richness Patterns in Canada: Energy, Heterogeneity, and the Potential Consequences of Climate Change

Jeremy T Kerr, University of Oxford


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The distributions of most pollinator species are poorly documented despite their importance in providing ecosystem services. While these and other organisms are threatened by many aspects of the human enterprise, anthropogenic climate change is potentially the most severe threat to pollinator biodiversity. Mounting evidence demonstrates that there have already been biotic responses to the relatively small climate changes that have occurred this century. These include wholesale shifts of relatively well-documented butterfly and bird species in Europe and North America. Although studies of such phenomena are supported by circumstantial evidence, their findings are also consistent with predictions derived from current models of spatial patterns of species richness. Using new GIS methods that are highly precise and accurate, I document spatial patterns of Canadian butterfly diversity. These are strongly related to contemporary climate and particularly to potential evapotranspiration. An even more noteworthy finding is the fact that, for the first time, habitat heterogeneity, measured as the number of land cover types in each study unit, is proven to be an equally strong predictor of butterfly richness in a region where energy alone was thought to be the best predictor of diversity. Although previous studies reveal similar relationships between energy and diversity, they fail to detect the powerful link between richness and habitat heterogeneity. The butterflies of Canada provide a superb baseline for studying the effects of climate on contemporary patterns of species richness and comprise the only complete pollinator taxon for which this sort of analysis is currently possible.

Key words

butterflies, climate change, habitat heterogeneity, land cover, latitudinal gradients, pollinator, species richness, species richness-energy theory

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087