Here Professor Jane Hill, Professor of Ecology at the University of York talks about her research into climate change, biodiversity and habitat loss. Professor Hill will be delivering ZSL's annual Stamford Raffles lecture.
It is often thought to be a good thing for us to push the limits of our skills and experiences beyond our usual ‘comfort zone’. Whilst this might be a good way of making sure our lives don’t get stuck in a rut, what about the comfort zones of other animals? For many species, being outside their comfort zone is a problem - a problem brought about by the ways in which humans are affecting the world’s natural habitats and the biodiversity they contain.
Few species occur everywhere on Earth, and most animals and plants have distributions that are limited to a small part of the world according to their specific environmental requirements. Most of us probably have a temperature that is perfect for us, for which we get irritable and short-tempered if it gets too hot and humid, and miserable if it’s too wet and cold for our liking. If you fight over the setting of your heating thermostat at home, you are no doubt very aware of this.
Other animals and plants are the same as us, and have their own set of favourable conditions where they do best. These conditions include the types of habitats where species can survive, such as woodlands or grasslands, as well as local temperature and rainfall conditions. Thus as global climates are changing, many species are shifting their distributions to track how the climate is changing. My lab at York has been studying how fast species are shifting their ranges and whether or not species are adapting to these changing climates.
Some species are very sensitive to changes in temperature and we study butterflies which not only are beautiful and highly charismatic species but just about everything they do is dependent on the weather, making them sensitive indicators of climate change.
Ever since Victorian times, the British public has been enthusiastically recording the butterflies they see around them and so in the UK we have a globally unique long-term data set of millions of records to help us understand how butterflies are faring in Britain. My research group has used this information to show where butterflies are disappearing from sites that are getting far too hot and dry for them, as is the case for some of our northern butterflies. We also use this information to map how some other species are heading northwards or uphill as the previously cold conditions are now becoming suitable for them.
One very impressive example in the UK is the comma butterfly, that used to occur only around the Wye valley on the border between Wales and England, but now has spread north and colonised most of England and southern Scotland.
Other species are also doing well, but finding it hard to colonise new sites if the habitats they need are fragmented and too isolated to reach. The speckled wood butterfly is spreading slowly in parts of its range where there is little of its preferred habitat – woodland – in the landscape. This has led to conservation recommendations to create habitat corridors to help species move to new locations.
2016 is going to be the hottest year on record. Whilst this may be good news for species who like it hot, it will be bad news for those for whom the conditions become inhospitable. My research is focussed on helping species to spread and colonise areas that become favourable whist trying to slow up declines and local extinctions where conditions have deteriorated. Much of this work takes me out of my comfort zone!
Professor Jane Hill to lecture at ZSL
- Jane will be talking about her research, climate change, biodiversity and habitat loss at our annual Stamford Raffles lecture.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.