News Stories

Global Warming Causing Evolution

Climate warming is changing the habits of bugs and butterflies, according to scientists. There is evidence that some butterflies are adapting to a warmer climate by adopting new habitats, according to Chris Thomas of the British Association Science Festival in Glasgow. ?A range of species which used to be solely in the south east are expanding north,? he says.

A butterfly called the silver-spotted skipper, previously confined to sunny south-facing slopes, is now able to move to new areas as the temperature gets warmer. In the last 20 years it has expanded its range and developed a 10-20% increase in muscle mass, so that it can fly farther.

Another butterfly that has been steadily spreading north since 1990 is the speckled wood. Experts believe the butterfly will be seen in most of England and Scotland by the year 2099.

Butterflies such as the black-veined white and the mazarine blue, last seen in Britain 100 years ago, could reappear in the UK. ?There might already be continental species that could get a foothold in south-east England if they got across the channel,? Thomas says. ?We would expect to see some continental species coming in. Predicting when that might happen is difficult.?

Steve Hawkins, of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, says fish that are commonly found in more southerly waters are starting to show up in British fishing nets. ?You will start to see more of the kinds of fish you see in Portugal and Spain - pilchards, red mullet, sea bream,? he says.

According to biologists at the University of Oregon, British birds now lay their eggs more than a week earlier than they did in the 1970s. And frogs are spawning about 10 days earlier.

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Mosquitoes are altering their genes in response to climate change. A tiny species of mosquito found on the eastern seaboard of North America is being studied by Dr. William Bradshaw and Dr. Christina Holzapfel. The mosquitoes, which are the size of a grain of rice, occasionally bite people but prefer plants. The scientists found that the insects are now entering their pupae 8-10 days later than they did in the 1970s, because the insects? life cycle is controlled by a genetic switch linked to the length of day.

Dr. Bradshaw says, ?There is a genetic change in their response to daylight. We can detect this change over as short a time period as five years. Evolution is happening and it is happening very fast.?

There may be a sound basis for these evolutionary changes. Birds that lay their eggs earlier in the year, to go along with the premature arrival of spring, may have a genetic advantage that they pass on to their offspring. ?The broader implication is that the make-up of future communities in nature may depend critically on the ability of these species to adapt or evolve in their response to global warming,? says Bradshaw.. But it can cause problems for those who can?t keep up. One species of British bird, the great tit, is already feeling the effects. Some of the birds are running out of insects to feed to their chicks because they are nesting after caterpillars have developed into butterflies. The species that survive will be the ones that can evolve along with the warming climate.

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