Climate Change Ecology

Current Activity

Biological records represent an essential resource to document and understand the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. High quality data has enabled the UK to be at the forefront of climate change research. Internationally important publications have also been produced directly from the data provided by volunteer schemes and societies.  Current projects using biological recording data include assessing the risks and opportunities faced by individual species during climatic changes and identifying refugia which may help promote the persistence of species.

Key Outputs

Analyses of distribution data provided some of the first demonstrations of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. Climate warming has caused many species to shift their distributions, with their responses often influenced by land use changes.  Biological recording has been invaluable in understanding these interacting effects, predicting the risks and opportunities faced by species from climate change and identifying appropriate ‘adaptation actions’ to reduce undesired climate change impacts.

Expansion of Conocephalus discolor, the long winged conehead, under climate warming

Map showing distribution change

Figure: B. Beckmann, CEH

Historical and recent biological records allow us to document changes in species’ distributions, many which are driven by changes in climatic suitability.

General patterns of northward range shift across many different taxonomic groups

Chart showing range shift across taxonomic group

Figure: S. Mason, CEH

Based on distribution data from 1960-2002, most animal groups have shown an average northward shift in their British range margin, albeit with substantial variation within groups. Bars show results for hectads where 10% of the species in a group were recorded in both time periods; similar results were obtained with other cut-off values.

Projected distribution change for an example species, Bombus ruderarius, the red-shanked carder bee

Map of predicted distribution

Figure: Tom Oliver, CEH

Bioclimate models relate observed occurrences to various climatic variables to produce a modelled ‘climatic suitability’ surface for a species. This map shows changes relative to the historic baseline where new climate space is shown as yellow and red, white squares showing areas of climate overlap, blue squares showing adversely sensitive areas and grey squares indicate areas climatically unsuitable in both periods.

Future Challenges

A challenge is to explain the different responses of species with similar initial ranges to climate change.  We continue to improve models to predict future changes, taking into account species ecology and patterns of recording. The substantial effort of volunteers in providing the geographic and taxonomic coverage of biological records is invaluable to increasing our understanding of the impacts of climate change. Ultimately, the development of robust evidence-based adaptation and conservation strategies is highly reliant on this unique data resource.


Plummer K.E., Powney G.D., Isaac N.J.B., Siriwardena G.M. (2019) Scoping the use of predictive models to address priority questions concerning terrestrial biodiversity. JNCC Report no. 639. JNCC, Peterborough
Powney Gary D., Carvell Claire, Edwards Mike, Morris Roger K. A., Roy Helen E., Woodcock Ben A., Isaac Nick J. B. (2019) Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain. ,
Macgregor Callum J., Thomas Chris D., Roy David B., Beaumont Mark A., Bell James R., Brereton Tom, Bridle Jon R., Dytham Calvin, Fox Richard, Gotthard Karl, Hoffmann Ary A., Martin Geoff, Middlebrook Ian, Nylin Sӧren, Platts Philip J., Rasteiro Rita, Saccheri Ilik J., Villoutreix Romain, Wheat Christopher W., Hill Jane K. (2019) Climate-induced phenology shifts linked to range expansions in species with multiple reproductive cycles per year. ,
RN249 Santini Luca, Isaac Nick J. B., Ficetola Gentile Francesco (2018) TetraDENSITY: A database of population density estimates in terrestrial vertebrates. ,
RN251 Isaac Nick J. B., Brotherton PNM, Bullock JM, Gregory Richard D, Boehning‐Gaese K, Connor Ben, Crick Humphrey QP, Freckleton Rob P, Gill JA, Hails RS (2018) Defining and delivering resilient ecological networks: nature conservation in England. ,
RN267 Santini Luca, Isaac Nick J. B., Maiorano Luigi, Ficetola Gentile Francesco, Huijbregts Mark AJ, Carbone Chris, Thuiller Wilfried (2018) Global drivers of population density in terrestrial vertebrates. ,
RN274 Pescott OL, Jitlal Mark S., Beckmann B, Roy D. B., Walker KJ, Dore A, Smart S.M. (2018) The use of National Plant Monitoring Scheme data for making inferences concerning air pollution impacts. ,
RN371 Franks Samantha E., Pearce-Higgins James W., Atkinson Sian, Bell James R., Botham M. S., Brereton Tom M., Harrington Richard, Leech David I. (2018) The sensitivity of breeding songbirds to changes in seasonal timing is linked to population change but cannot be directly attributed to the effects of trophic asynchrony on productivity. ,
RN378 Burns F., Eaton M. A., Hayhow D. B., Outhwaite C. L., Fulaij Al, August T.A., Boughey K. L., Brereton T., Brown A., Bullock D. J., Gent T., Haysom K. A., Isaac Nick J. B., Johns D. G., Macadam C. R., Mathews F., Noble D. G., Powney Gary D., Sims D. W., Smart S. M., Stroh P., Walker K. J., Webb J. R., Webb T. J., Gregory R. D. (2018) An assessment of the state of nature in the United Kingdom: A review of findings, methods and impact. ,
RN381 Suggitt Andrew J., Wilson Robert J., Isaac Nick J. B., Beale Colin M., Auffret Alistair G., August T.A., Bennie Jonathan J., Crick Humphrey Q. P., Duffield Simon, Fox Richard, Hopkins John J., Macgregor Nicholas A., Morecroft Mike D., Walker Kevin J., Maclean Ilya M. D. (2018) Extinction risk from climate change is reduced by microclimatic buffering. ,