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Once-Rare Butterfly Species Now Thrives, Thanks to Climate Change

The once rare brown argus butterfly is on the move, expanding its range and numbers in the U.K.—and it’s all thanks to climate change.

Thus far, the world’s climate has warmed roughly 0.8 degree Celsius over the course of the last century or so, thanks to a rise in greenhouse gas concentrations now approaching 400 parts-per-million. With that amount of warming, biologists expect some species ranges to expand and others to contract but, thus far, many wily animals and plants have been confounding scientists’ expectations. In some cases, species that favor a warmer climate have actually retreated (think: lizards or amphibians). Or others have expanded even faster than the climate has warmed (think: tree species moving up a mountain slope).

Obviously climate change isn’t the only factor in play. Habitat loss and disease seem to be dooming many varieties of amphibian while plants may be benefiting from human help (carried along on our own fossil fueled travels by car or plane).

But for the brown argus butterfly with its trademark orange and white spots near its wingtips, climate seems to play a key role. It has spread northwards nearly 80 kilometers in just the last two decades, according to the U.K. Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. Warm summers have allowed the butterfly to begin using a new type of plants—such as the dove’s foot cranesbill—as a host in the U.K., the way it does in continental Europe. In prior decades, the butterfly had restricted itself to the rockrose.

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