The impact of climate change on species redistribution in the UK

A male speckled wood Butterfly

Studying UK species on the move due to climate change.

Summary of the research

Many species are on the move in a desperate attempt to adapt to changing climatic conditions, and those moves are expected to increasingly pose a substantial, yet quite understated and under-researched, challenge to human society. Shifts in species distributions are already happening: terrestrial species, for example, have been shown to move poleward by 17 km on average each decade, while marine species move by 72 km. The arrival of these new species in established communities can create chaos, disturbing predation, herbivory, host-plant associations, competition, and mutualistic interactions, and can ultimately reduce the delivery of those benefits we currently derive from nature. ZSL is working to develop a knowledge base to understand and mitigate the impact of climate change on biodiversity and society, with a focus on the UK.

Why we are there

Species shifts in response to climate change have already been observed in the UK throughout the 20th century, and further shifts are expected as climate change picks up pace in the future. It is currently unclear, however, which species are going to shift, what their new distributions are likely to be and how these shifts will affect overall biodiversity, public health and the economy. Drawing on existing information and its strong links to the biodiversity and conservation community, ZSL is aiming to consolidate our understanding of the potential impact of climate change on humans and other species in the UK.

Impact

ZSL is building a database of spatially and temporally explicit occurrence data for UK species to assess the impact of climate change on species redistribution. This will help us understand how communities and ecosystems are changing as a result of climate change, and gauge the socio-economic impact of these changes.

Key Species

All UK species

People involved

Nathalie Pettorelli

Useful links

Where the wild things will be next