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.


RN373 Martay B., Brewer M. J., Elston D. A., Bell J. R., Harrington R., Brereton T. M., Barlow K. E., Botham M. S., Pearce-Higgins J. W. (2017) Impacts of climate change on national biodiversity population trends. ,
RN388 Brooks Stephen J., Self Angela, Powney Gary D., Pearse William D., Penn Malcolm, Paterson Gordon L. J. (2017) The influence of life history traits on the phenological response of British butterflies to climate variability since the late-19th century. ,
622 Burns F., Eaton Mark A, Barlow K.E., Beckmann B, Brereton Tom M., Brooks D.R., Brown Peter M. J., Fulaij Al, Gent T., Henderson Ian G, Noble David G., Parsons M.S., Powney Gary D., Roy Helen E., Stroh P., Walker Kevin J., Wilkinson J.W., Wotton S.R., Gregory R.D. (2016) Agricultural management and climatic change are the major drivers of biodiversity change in the UK. ,
629 Bantock T. (2016) A review of the Hemiptera of Great Britain: The shieldbugs and allied families (Coreoidea, Pentatomoidea & Pyrrhocoroidea). Natural England Commissioned Report NECR190.. Natural England,
706 Martay B, Brewer MJ, Elston DA, Bell J. R., Harrington R., Brereton Tom M., Barlow K.E., Botham M. S., Pearce‐Higgins James W (2016) Impacts of climate change on national biodiversity population trends. ,
718 Thackeray S. J., Henrys P. A., Hemming D., Bell J. R., Botham M. S., Burthe S., Helaouet P., Johns D. G., Jones I. D., Leech D. I., Mackay E. B., Massimino D., Atkinson S., Bacon Jim, Brereton Tom M., Carvalho L., Clutton-Brock T. H., Duck C., Edwards M., Elliott J. M., Hall S. J. G., Harrington R., Pearce‐Higgins James W, Hoye T. T., Kruuk L. E. B., Pemberton J. M., Sparks T. H., Thompson P. M., White I., Winfield I. J., Wanless S. (2016) Phenological sensitivity to climate across taxa and trophic levels. ,
RN376 Thackeray Stephen J., Henrys Peter A., Hemming Deborah, Bell James R., Botham M. S., Burthe Sarah, Helaouet Pierre, Johns David G., Jones Ian D., Leech David I., Mackay Eleanor B., Massimino Dario, Atkinson Sian, Bacon Jim, Brereton Tom M., Carvalho Laurence, Clutton-Brock Tim H., Duck Callan, Edwards Martin, Elliott Malcolm, Hall Stephen J. G., Harrington Richard, Pearce-Higgins James W., Høye Toke T., Kruuk Loeske E. B., Pemberton Josephine M., Sparks Tim H., Thompson Paul M., White Ian, Winfield Ian J., Wanless Sarah (2016) Phenological sensitivity to climate across taxa and trophic levels. ,
599 Beckmann B, Purse Bethan V., Roy D. B., Roy Helen E., Sutton Peter G., Thomas Chris D. (2015) Two species with an unusual combination of traits dominate responses of British grasshoppers and crickets to environmental change. ,
601 Stewart Alan JA, Bantock T., Beckmann B, Botham M. S., Hubble David S, Roy D. B. (2015) The role of ecological interactions in determining species ranges and range changes. ,
603 Roy D. B., Oliver Tom H., Botham M. S., Beckmann B, Brereton Tom M., Dennis Roger L. H., Harrower Colin A, Phillimore Albert B, Thomas J. A. (2015) Similarities in butterfly emergence dates among populations suggest local adaptation to climate. ,