What makes a refugium from climate change?

Dr Andrew Suggitt1, Dr Philip Platts1, Dr Yvonne Collingham2, Prof Calvin Dytham1, Prof Jane Hill1, Prof Brian Huntley2, Prof Chris Thomas1

1University Of York, York, United Kingdom, 2Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom

Large numbers of species are at accelerating risk of global extinction due to climate change. Although the existence of locations that could buffer populations from these adverse impacts is widely hypothesised, empirical studies of so-called ‘refugia’ from climate change are rare. Here we use the results of a large field survey of four range-retracting species of butterfly (n ~ 400 sites) to describe the characteristics of refugia, and the spatial scale over which they operate. We found that species were more likely to survive at sites that were cooler or wetter than the surrounding environment, with these effects most pronounced closer to the range boundary- consistent with an ameliorative, ‘thermostatic’ effect. We used the characteristics of refugia that we identified to calculate the ‘survival potential’ of the landscape as a whole, finding that persistence probability at the site level was increased where this survival potential of the surrounding landscape was high. Our results will help with efforts to determine how and where refugia are forming, and how we can best protect cold- or wet-dwelling species from adverse climate change.


Andrew is a hard-working ecologist with a passion for delivering the scientific evidence that is required to protect wildlife from the threats and challenges of the modern world. He has researched threats such as climate change and habitat loss across a variety of spatial and temporal scales, and for a rich variety of taxa: from species-specific studies to multispecies, ‘big data’ analyses of thousands of species.

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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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