Increasingly frequent episodes of extreme weather are certainly annoying when you just can’t work out what to wear, but it turns out it may have a much bigger impact on Britain’s butterflies.
Research suggests that heatwaves, cold snaps, and heavy rain may have already contributed to reported butterfly population crashes.
While it is well known that changes to overall climate can affect ecosystems, much less is understood about the impact of short-term spells of harsh weather known as extreme climatic events (ECEs).
Researchers analysed data from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS), which contains information on butterfly populations collected from more than 1,800 sites across the UK over 37 years.
The team found that rainfall level during the cocoon life stage of butterflies adversely affected more than a quarter of butterfly species in the UK.
But the greatest harm was caused by extreme heat during the “over-wintering” life stage, which had an impact on more than half the species.
Hot weather was found to benefit warmth-loving adult butterflies, leading to a positive population change in more than a third of species.
However, on balance the bad effects of extreme weather events outweighed the good, said the scientists whose findings are published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Lead author Osgur McDermott Long, of the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA, said: “The study has demonstrated previously unknown sensitivities of our UK butterflies to extreme climatic events, which are becoming more frequent with climate change.”