back to article Zabulon Skipper: Butterfly harbinger of climate biodiversity DOOM?

A volley of studies into the likely effects of climate change on various animal species - and thus on biodiversity worldwide - have come out in the last few days. The headliner, examining butterflies in Massachusetts, seems to indicate that rising temperatures are having powerful ecological effects: but another pair of studies …

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Evolution might work here

You might remember how climate change at the end of the Permian wiped out 90% of species on Earth, because of industri-- er, wait.

Seriously, there have been die-offs before; there were booms that followed. Species are always dying out and new species are always appearing. And recoveries tend to follow busts, just like in free market economics.

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Re: Evolution might work here

Is that comment a troll or parody? The reference at the end to "just like free market economics" makes me suspect one of the two.

You also wrongly associate extinction with adaptation. Extinction is not a form of adaptation, extinction is what happens when adaptation fails. Your example of mass extinctions occurring in the past actually challenges this very article's assumption that evolution will save the day. In fact when I first started reading your comment I thought you were going to make that point. It's staggering to see you try to make the opposite. What mass extinctions show is that evolution ISNT going to save the day if climate change is large and fast enough.

Also bear in mind that it takes life millions of years to recover after mass extinction events, so while the full richness of life would recover in the long-term, it wouldn't be around for the foreseeable period of human civilization.

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Re: Evolution might work here

Save the day from what?

Some species will adapt and maybe even evolve. Others will die out. While it may be the end of the world for those dead species, as the first comentator pointed out the world will continue and new creatures will take their place. That may be a shame but it isn't a disaster for the planet. Humans I'm sure will adapt, though there may be impacts on standard of living and possibly a few wars in the process...

In fact the scientists have seemed to missed the big conclusion of the butterfly study - as the temperatures change animals will move and start showing up in ecosystems that they were previously rare in, moving with the temperature bands.

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Re: Evolution might work here

"In fact the scientists have seemed to missed the big conclusion of the butterfly study - as the temperatures change animals will move and start showing up in ecosystems that they were previously rare in, moving with the temperature bands."

I can assure you they haven't missed this. The mixing up of species and tearing down of ecosystems into new arrangement is a primary cause of extinctions.

Consider what can happen when species get introduced into new ecosystems that have never before been exposed? Think about the introduction of rabbits to Australia or the many examples of rats being introduced inadvertently to remote islands for example. And what happens if a specie's required food source is unable to move polewards with it fast enough?

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WTF?

Seriously?

Not to play down the risks at all but a load of biologists just forgot about evolution? Are they all creationists?

My mind is boggling.

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Re: Seriously?

Nobody has forgotten about evolution. That's just a scientifically illiterate interpretation of the research by the blogger. The very first line of the summary of the research is this:

"It has been postulated that climate warming may pose the greatest threat species in the tropics, where ectotherms have evolved more thermal specialist physiologies."

i.e. biologists have been assuming that the evolution of cold-blooded animals in the tropics might make them more vulnerable to climate change.

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Re: Seriously?

OK, it was pretty obvious I've not read the research hence my jocular phrasing and use of question marks. Secondly your quote mentions evolution in the past, not adaptation in future; but again, I have not read the research.

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Happy

Re: Seriously?

No they are not creationist. If they were they would know that the earth is going to suffer climate change but the climate will not be brought on by man directly but by indirect means. The creationist would have Revelations chapter 16 which outlines several climate changes that will be upon the earth. The changes will be such that man will not adapt to the change to survive. Check it out by reading Revelations chapter 16 to see what one may expect soon.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Seriously?

No they are not creationist. If they were they would know that the earth is going to suffer climate change but the climate will not be brought on by man directly but by indirect means. The creationist would have Revelations chapter 16 which outlines several climate changes that will be upon the earth. The changes will be such that man will not adapt to the change to survive. Check it out by reading Revelations chapter 16 to see what one may expect soon.

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Re: Seriously?

The really depressing thing is that these blogs are written with the explicit assumption that the majority of their readers won't bother reading the original research. They can take whatever liberties they like in misinterpreting the research since most people won't check and any posts that point out the dishonesty can be refused.

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Trollface

Don't mention evolution...

'cause it might upset a Creationist.

Or something like that.

Evolution has knocked over the changes at the end of a whole series of ice ages during the Pleistocene (>100m rise in sea level, >10 degrees C in fits and starts over a few hundred to a couple of thousand years), so the potential is there at least. Unfortunately there's a few billion people in the way this time around so species might end up carking it anyway, in spite of the efforts of evolution.

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"Many people, indeed, have not hesitated to link recent severe weather events in the States to global warming - despite a refutation of this idea from no less a body than the IPCC."

Can't say this makes sense. The two links given for support of this statement are:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/06/climate-change-behind-recent-heatwaves/

Claiming a link between climate change and global heat waves

and

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/29/ipcc_srex_thermageddon/

Mentioning not a thing about heat waves or their causes, so how can it be refuting a link?

Not to mention that I thought climate skeptics were keen on telling people not to listen to the IPCC. But now we should?

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WTF?

Extreme weather

The IPCC committee clearly reported that there was no observable trend in either the frequency or intensity of extreme weather that could be attributed to anthropogenic CO2, and that much more data would need to be available before such a determination could be made.

Everyone likes cherries :-)

The thing that always puzzles me about reports of changes in animal populations caused by climate change is how they actually make the determination that it's climate change that's responsible. I'd have thought that for the most part you can say that there's correlation, but causation? Given the increase in temperatures over the last 19 years, which would be what, ~0.1c? It's hard to believe that any butterfly would be affected by a change that small, when the average day/night temperature shift is probably 50x greater, let alone seasonal variation.

What about development, crop spraying, shift in predator populations, butterfly collectors, planting changes and disease. Getting a climate signal from that lot. Wow.

Not saying climate change isn't the cause, just that I find it hard to believe they're able to conclusively prove it.

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Re: Extreme weather

They can't conclusively prove it - which is why this sort of analysis is always circumspect in its conclusions. But it is certainly possible extract small signals from a large quantity of noisy data.

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welcome to the expedient world of denial

nomnomnom, I don't need to say much because the title of my response answers your question. Deniers latch on to whatever suits their position regardless of whether it contradicts previous assertions or not. This expediency (hypocrisy) works for those who lack a solid base for their argument.

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I'm not qualified to comment on the veracity or significance of this story. But I find it ironic that the effects of global warming on butterflies is worthy of extensive debate, while the more long-standing and, I suspect greater, effect of pesticides and monoculture farming isn't.

@NomNomNom: there's evolution, which, as you say takes a very long time, and there's selection, which can be relatively quick. The classic story of the peppered moth is a case of short-term population change as a result of selection. (Whether you want to be a pale moth when the industrial revolution comes along is another matter.)

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Anonymous Coward

@Kubla: "there's selection", yes, very much so; that's the pruning force in the evolutionary process. It can severely reduce genomic diversity in the short term by killing off a large portion of a population. The fact that northern butterflies are being replaced by outsider species doesn't make up for that destruction of biodiversity, not in the short term.

And of course, the short term is, oh, hundreds of thousands of years, or whatever the minimum time is for new species to appear as a result of the niches opened by selection.

BTW I agree that pesticides and monoculture pose a severe threat to ecosystems everywhere, along with a number of other human-caused pressures. That's the nature of the problem confronting us: we're attacking ecosystems on a large number of fronts simultaneously.

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Pint

Perhaps the species these scientists should concern themselves about most is the human one. Since extinction events to one degree or another are natural to this planet's history, the demise of homo sapiens due to a number of man made and natural events, not the least of which is the destructive/cleansing climate changes occurring, should be the subject of study. How long do we actually have before we go extinct?

Just asking.

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Trollface

"How long do we actually have before we go extinct?"

didn't you read the article? It doesn't matter if we go extinct, something else will just evolve in our place and life will go on. In fact most human species are already extinct, so human extinction is an entirely natural thing and we shouldn't be concerned about it. We'd be better off concentrating on how to lower my taxes.

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

Facepalm

What the researchers actually say:

"the potential advantage of a higher maximal development rate can in theory more than offset the potential disadvantage of lower genetic variance associated with a thermal specialist strategy"

"the relative risk of extinction is likely to be lower for tropical species than for temperate species"

What this blog says:

[nothing resembling anything in the original research]

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Trollface

Im spotting s definite trend...

twice in the above LP is described as a blogger.

Clearly a blogger is a lower lifeform that a journalist (the mind boggles, but there you are) at least a hack is in it for the bunts whereas the be-cardiganed blogger is tilting at windmills utterly failing to understand the reality of the world today. (a fair description of LP's rantings of late)

Should this trend continue, I fully expect by 2020, 2025 at the latest that LP will routinely be referred to as 'that bloke from down the pub'

of course we could do with a lot more datapoints before we can be certain about these claims, as the mechanism by which the contempt with which short sighted prognosticators are viewed is a highly complex, nay chaotic process.

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Some temperature perspective

Some perspective on the temperatures in that part of the world.

1998 was the warmest year on record in 10 mostly northeastern US states. The mean annual temperature in these 10 states was 51.8°F. Last year the mean temperature was down to 50.5°, 1.3° cooler.

In the Northeast climatic region, 1998 was the warmest on record at 49.4°F. In 2011 the mean temperature had dropped 0.9°F.

In Massachusetts the record high temperature occurred in 1949 (50.6°F). Last year in MA is was 0.9° cooler.

Finally, regarding the butterfly. The Canadian government reports that "Zabulon flies throughout the southeastern US, north to Massachusetts, and occasionally to Pelee Island, Ontario."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Some temperature perspective

Call me ignorant, but any time someone starts proving the point by showing the temperature variations below 1 degree over tens (even hundreds) of years I dismiss that as BS.

Why? Simply because outdoor temperature measurement is not accurate as measurement in a test chamber (which also has a measurement error) and please remember that measurements form 50 years ago were accurate to +- few degrees at most. We are seeing the statistical average that really never shows upper and lower error limits and can be presented any which way you want at the moment.

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Re: Some temperature perspective

Dear "Call me ignorant"... The temperatures used (NOAA/NCDC) are the same ones that are used by NCDC to tell us that some year or some month, or whatever, was the "warmest" or "coolest" on record. The point I was trying to make is that using these "official" numbers for the area where this study was done all have downward trends since 1998... the "warmest" year on record in the US-48 states. As you simply "dismiss" these as BS, perhaps you can provide us with some "real" data that will satisfy your position, whatever that is.

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FAIL

Electrical engineer tries hand at brain surgery

Lewis Page writes great biting commentary on the achievements and excesses of the military industrial complex. He should leave the climate change conspiracy paranoia to the experts...the religious far right, Ron Paul supporters, and other junior high dropouts.

I've been involved in collecting and processing the aforementioned data on zabulon skippers and giant swallowtails in southern New England and I can say that they tend to be more southern species and that they are much more common than they used to be. I don't think this proves or disproves the theory that the globe is warming. But it is consistent with that theory. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the article and it doesn't contradict the conclusions of the other articles as described. Certainly there is nothing here that justifies Page going off on the science in the articles. Pull your tin-foil hat down snug and get back to writing articles on IT.

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Re: Electrical engineer tries hand at brain surgery

Hawkmoth writes: "I don't think this proves or disproves the theory that the globe is warming. But it is consistent with that theory."

Ignoring your "cute" title and your ad hominem remarks, the temperature evidence when and where the study was made would seem to be inconsistent with the"theory" being the proximate cause of these changes. It is, of course, a more fashionable conclusion.

According to W.J. Holland's classic Butterfly Book, 1898, page 364, The zebulon skipper "...ranges from New England to Georgia, and westward to the Great Plains. It is very common in Pennsylvania, Virginia and the valley of the Ohio."

As for the "giant swallowtail", described here as a "subtropical and warm-climate species" Holland writes (in 1898) on page 311-312: "It appears to have been gradually spreading northward, and in quite recent years has appeared at points where before it had never been observed. It has been recently taken in Ontario. It has become rather abundant in the vicinity of the city of Pittsburgh, where no observer had seen it prior to the year 1894." Climate change?

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Re: Electrical engineer tries hand at brain surgery

Again with the brain surgery...

F.A. Lutz, Field Book of Insects, Putnam's Sons, 1918. "Its (giant swallowtail's) normal range is from Virginia and Missouri to Florida and Texas."

Alexander B. Klots, Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, East of the Rockies, Houghton, Mifflin, 1951. "Zabulon Skipper...More widespread southward than hobomok. As noted above, many old records and life history data cannot be trusted because the two species were confused."

You're just sore because the papers' results are inconvenient to your own theories.

Oh, and which exactly were the ad hominem remarks? Knocking Ron Paul supporters? He's a public figure who gets worse walking to the mailbox. A quippy remark connoting that I think climate change skeptics are in the same category of conspiracy theorists that wear tinfoil hats? El Reg uses that trope all the time. What else you got?

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