Insects react rapidly to environmental change: for example, regional extinction rates of European butterflies have exceeded those of birds and higher plants by an order of magnitude in recent decades1. In theory, ensembles of closely interacting species are most vulnerable to change as survival depends on the persistence of multiple group members: thus in practice, the greatest recorded declines among butterflies were by the many species that also depend on ants (myrmecophiles)2. Despite visible progress regarding the conservation of myrmecophiles under current climatic conditions3 it is not clear how conservation schemes should be designed under scenarios of different futures4.
CLIMIT aims to assess the combined impacts of human-induced changes in climate and habitat (area, isolation, patch quality) on some of Europeís most specialised and threatened grassland insects that depend on ants (myrmecophiles), by studying their local adaptations, changing niches and different needs across a gradient of local climates from the Mediterranean to the North/ Baltic seas.
We will compare the fates of species that have different relationships with ants under different scenarios of climate and land use change, as well as studying their potential to evolve adaptations to new environments.
Finally CLIMIT will test current ideas for adaptive management to conserve myrmecophiles on existing and new sites across landscapes, and will model the potential for the mitigation of global change impacts.
Specifically, CLIMIT addresses the following objectives:
- Quantify intra-population variation in population ecology across current European landscapes and climates
- Quantify adaptations to local communities and current environments
- Assess impacts under future scenarios of climate and land use change on current European races of insects and ecosystems
- Study the potential of myrmecophiles to evolve adaptations to new environments
- Test current ideas for management to conserve myrmecophiles on large-scale sites and landscapes; model potential for mitigation under global change
- Disseminate and exploit results, transfer knowledge and provide training
- Coordinate project and establish science-policy interfaces
Major outputs of CLIMIT will be (i) studies on the changing niches, local adaptations, and different needs of the study species across a European climatic gradient, (ii) models of the processes that constrain each systemís (meta-)populations, (iii) predictions of the impacts of future scenarios of land use, climate and socioeconomic change in different regions, (iv) new model predictions about how to mitigate the harmful impacts of multiple drivers on biodiversity, (v) tests of management recommendations using existing large-scale habitat manipulations, and (vi) general conclusions about the changing needs of myrmecophiles (estimated about 100.000 species globally) and non-myrmecophileous butterflies.
The main anticipated users are key policy-makers and other stakeholders, such as (i) EC DG ENVIRONMENT, (ii) EC DG RESEARCH, (iii) the European Topic Centre for Biodiversity, (iv) the European Environmental Agency (EEA), (v) the Scientific Working Group of the Habitats Committee in which all Member States are represented, (vi) the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS), (vii) the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (PIK), and (viii) NGOs. We expect them to use the results for the implementation in landscape and conservation management, for further development of research and implementation policies, and for the creation of adjusted legal frameworks.
- Thomas JA et al. (2004) Science 303: 1879-81.
- Thomas JA et al. (2005) In: Studies in the Ecology and Conservation of Butterflies in Europe 2, Settele J et al., Eds. (Pensoft, Sofia), pp. 28-31
- Thomas JA et al. (2009) Science 325: 80-83.
- Settele J and Kühn E (2009) Science 325: 41-42.