Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale

V. Devictor, C. van Swaay, T. Brereton, L. Brotons, D. Chamberlain, J. Heliölä, S. Herrando, R. Julliard, M. Kuussaari, A. Lindström, J. Reif, D.B. Roy, O. Schweiger, J. Settele, C. Stefanescu, A. van Strien, C. van Turnhout, Z. Vermouzek, M.F. Wallis de Vries, I. WynhoffF. Jiguet

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519 Citations (Scopus)


Climate changes have profound effects on the distribution of numerous plant and animal species(1-3). However, whether and how different taxonomic groups are able to track climate changes at large spatial scales is still unclear. Here, we measure and compare the climatic debt accumulated by bird and butterfly communities at a European scale over two decades (1990-2008). We quantified the yearly change in community composition in response to climate change for 9,490 bird and 2,130 butterfly communities distributed across Europe(4). We show that changes in community composition are rapid but different between birds and butterflies and equivalent to a 37 and 114 km northward shift in bird and butterfly communities, respectively. We further found that, during the same period, the northward shift in temperature in Europe was even faster, so that the climatic debts of birds and butterflies correspond to a 212 and 135 km lag behind climate. Our results indicate both that birds and butterflies do not keep up with temperature increase and the accumulation of different climatic debts for these groups at national and continental scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-124
JournalNature Climate Change
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • evolutionary responses
  • global change
  • extinction
  • adaptation


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