Natural history museum collections provide information on phenological change in British butterflies since the late-nineteenth century

S.J. Brooks, A. Self, F. Toloni, Tim Sparks

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    Museum collections have the potential to provide valuable information on the phenological response of organisms to climate change. This is particularly useful for those species for which few data otherwise exist, but also to extend time series to the period before other observational data are available. To test this potential, we analysed data from 2,630 specimens of four species of British butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines, Hamearis lucina, Polyommatus bellargus and Pyrgus malvae), collected from 1876 to 1999 and stored in the Natural History Museum, London, UK (NHM). In A. cardamines, first-generation P. bellargus and P. malvae, we found that there was a strong significant negative relationship between spring temperature and 10th percentile collection dates, which approximates mean first appearance date, and median collection date, which approximates mean flight date. In all four species, there was a significant negative relationship between the 10th percentile collection date and the length of the collection period, which approximates flight period. In second-generation P. bellargus, these phenological measurements were correlated with summer temperature. We found that the rates of phenological response to temperature, based on NHM data, were similar to, or somewhat greater than, those reported for other organisms based on observational data covering the last 40 years. The lower rate of phenological response, and the significant influence of February rather than March or April temperatures, in recent decades compared with data from earlier in the twentieth century may indicate that early emerging British butterfly species are currently approaching the limits of phenological advancement in response to recent climate warming.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1749-1758
    JournalInternational Journal of Biometeorology
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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    • butterflies
    • climate change
    • museum collections
    • phenology


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