DOI: 10.1111/gcb.17103 ISSN: 1354-1013

Active around the year: Butterflies and moths adapt their life cycles to a warming world

Jan Christian Habel, Thomas Schmitt, Patrick Gros, Werner Ulrich
  • General Environmental Science
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Global and Planetary Change


Living in a warming world requires adaptations to altered annual temperature regimes. In Europe, spring is starting earlier, and the vegetation period is ending later in the year. These climatic changes are leading not only to shifts in distribution ranges of flora and fauna, but also to phenological shifts. Using long‐term observation data of butterflies and moths collected during the past decades across northern Austria, we test for phenological shifts over time and changes in the number of generations. On average, Lepidoptera adults emerged earlier in the year and tended to extend their flight periods in autumn. Many species increased the annual number of generations. These changes were more pronounced at lower altitudes than at higher altitudes, leading to an altered phenological zonation. Our findings indicate that climate change does not only affect community composition but also the life history of insects. Increased activity and reproductive periods might alter Lepidoptera–host plant associations and food webs.

More from our Archive