Impacts of Climate and Land Management Changes on Grassland Insects, and Adaptive Management Practices for their Conservation
Total Grant

€ 1,202,183

Consortium partners

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Germany — Coordinator: Josef Settele

Dept. of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK (Co- Coordinator: Jeremy Thomas)

Dept. of Physical Geography and Ecosystems Science, Lund University, Sweden

NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK

Institute of Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity, CNRS/MNHN, France

Dept. Of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, University of Turin, Italy


The CLIMIT team assessed the combined effects of human-induced changes in climate and habitat (area, isolation, patch quality) on some of Europe’s most specialized and threatened grassland insects that depend on ants (so-called myrmecophiles), comparing the results with other taxa like birds. The researchers studied the insects’ local adaptations, changing niches and different needs across local climates ranging from the Mediterranean to the North/Baltic Seas, in order to:
1. Compare the fates of species that have relationships with ants under different land use change scenarios and their potential to evolve and adapt to new environments; and
2. Test current adaptive management practices to conserve myrmecophiles and mitigate global change impacts.


The CLIMIT team completed existing data sets on myrmecophiles’ distribution, habitat requirements and hosts (ants) dependency across EU climates. The data collected in the project was used together with long-term data sets for modelling the evolutionary consequences of global change on the interactions between myrmecophiles and their hosts, and on their population dynamics. The CLIMIT team conducted fieldwork in the UK to evaluate the potential of the butterfly Maculinea arion to adapt to changing conditions, including changed plant phenology. These results and experiments manipulating environmental conditions such as sward height, slope and aspect, were used to test the potential of adaptive habitat management for myrmecophiles’ conservation.

Main academic findings

• CLIMIT allowed completing datasets on niche breadth and host interactions of myrmecophilous species in Europe, filling gaps for southern Europe.

• New insights into the mechanisms of host specificity linked to acoustic communication with host ant species were provided for Maculinea butterflies.

• The CLIMIT team showed a limited potential of such species to adapt to changing environmental conditions due to strong adaptation to local host ants.

• Long term data analyses revealed that there is little variation in butterfly populations at the margin of their distribution, while Europe is more and more dominated by species associated with higher temperatures.

• Analyses on M. arion in the northern range of Europe revealed an important plasticity in its phenology, showing a capacity to track and adapt to temperature change over time, which may be the result of the use of optimum

The CLIMIT team tested new ideas for adaptive management by experimentally manipulating environmental conditions of myrmecophiles’ habitats (e.g. sward height, slope and aspect). The results suggest that these are suited to create microclimatic conditions that help species persist under current and future climates.

Academic results highlight

The yearly change (1990–2008) in composition in response to climate change was quantified for 9,490 bird and 2,130 butterfly communities across Europe*. Changes in community composition are rapid, equivalent to a 37 and 114 km northward shift in bird and butterfly communities, respectively (see Figure). However, the northward shift in temperature in Europe was even faster, leaving a ‘climatic debt’ of birds and butterflies corresponding to a 212km and 135 km lag behind climate. This has implications for forecasting climate change effect on biodiversity in the next decades.

* Devictor et al. (2012). Differences in the climatic debt of birds and butterflies at a continental scale, Nature Climate Change
2: 121-124

Stakeholder engagement and product relevant to society/policy

• CLIMIT informed a broad number of stakeholders on the pressures that climate change forces onto threatened insects, especially NGOs, policy-makers, natural resource managers (e.g. German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the UK National Trust). The general public was also reached through interviews and press releases.

• A number of stakeholders were closely involved in the project, for example NGOs and local authorities, to support the reintroduction of threatened butterfly species. Work in the UK with Natural England and DEFRA lead the co-production of distribution maps and to agreements on several sites to provide suitable habitat for M. arion through management practices (in total approx. 700ha).

• Numerous training sessions were organised with natural site managers to advise on site management, help with agri-environment applications, teach, and provide feedback from monitoring and experiments.

• The project contributed to a joint analysis of monitoring data from 13 countries to update the European Butterfly Climate Change Indicator (van Swaay et al. (2010) The impact of climate change on butterflies communities 1990-2009. In B.C.D. Vlinderstichting (Ed.),(Report VS2010.025). Wageningen) as part of the Climate Change indicators of the European Environmental Agency.

CLIMIT produced a set of tools adapted for use by key stakeholders in a proactive manner:
• Inventory of 64 sites with broad management prescriptions needed to restore butterfly habitat
• Policy recommendations, which are summarized in a CLIMIT policy brief supported by BiodivERsA (http://

Highlights on society/policy-relevant products

• Policy paper on the implementation of Natura 2000 in forests: this document identifies five “core challenges” and solution paths (Winkel et al., 2015 – The implementation of Natura 2000 in forests: a trans- and interdisciplinary assessment of challenges and choices. Environmental Science and Policy. 52:23-32).

• “Natura 2000 and Europe’s forests” policy brief, supported by BiodivERsA, that presents key research re- sults and outlines policy solutions to improve the effectiveness of Natura 2000 to conserve and sustainably manage Europe’s forest (

• Two databases on innovative forest management: the Forest Policy and Innovation Database (http://policy-; and the Innoforce Database of Innovation Cases in Forestry (