Transforming understanding of when and where species move in response to environmental change

Prof Jeremy Kerr1, Mr Peter Soroye1

1University Of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

It has taken more than a century of collecting primary species observations to identify species’ approximate geographical ranges and seasonal timing. Yet, rapid environmental changes are altering such patterns more quickly than new data can be assembled. Yet, rapid emergence of citizen science programs assembling validated specimen observations may help fill this gap, contributing vitally to detection and attribution of causes of biotic change. Here, we test whether opportunistically assembled citizen science observations for >300 butterfly species, through e-Butterfly, altered professionally-derived understanding of species’ geographical ranges and seasonal timing at semi-continental extents in North America. We also test whether these observations alter potential attribution of particular causes to historically-documented gradients of species diversity. E-Butterfly contributed new distributional information for >80% of species and detected species’ seasonal activities ~35 days earlier than professional datasets. Regional species counts rose by ~3 species when professional and citizen science data were combined. Increasing numbers of species detected in some regions led to altered slopes in species-environment relationships, suggesting that these species respond differently to environmental change than existing models can demonstrate, particularly in response to changing temperatures. We suggest that these results likely generalize across most taxa. Data from opportunistic CS programs in conjunction with professional datasets strongly increases the capacity to detect species on the move, whether across geographical gradients or through time. Enlisting citizen scientists in this part of the global change mission is uniquely valuable as a source of new data and insight.


Jeremy Kerr has worked on global change impacts on species distributions at macroecological scales for around 15 years, and led the development of frameworks to integrate macroecology and global change biology. He is particularly proud of the extraordinary early career scientists he has worked with and mentored over his time as a professor, including both Peter and Catherine who have joined him here in South Africa to speak about their own discoveries. Jeremy Kerr has won an array of awards, and election to a fellowship in Oxford, for his discoveries and extensive track record in public science and policy work. His work, published in Science, discovering bumblebee responses to global change led to global media attention and the identification of new mechanisms to understand how some species respond to unexpectedly to climate change. He has published around 90 other papers on conservation, macroecology, and global change. He serves in a number of public capacities in Canada, including in an appointment by Federal Cabinet to the governing council of the national scientific granting agency. He is a prudent optimist about the capacity and requirement to mitigate climate change immediately and dislikes climate change denial intensely. Jeremy was recently reappointed to the University Research Chair in Macroecology and Conservation at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

Species on the Move

An International Conference Series

The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.

Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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