"We could be underestimating the number of species for which climate change has negative impacts because those effects are masked by other forces," he said.
Hunter and six Finnish colleagues report their findings in a paper scheduled for online publication April 15 in the journal Global Change Biology.
The study was conducted at the Vrri Strict Nature Reserve, 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle and less than four miles from the Finnish-Russian border. The nearest major road is more than 60 miles away.
Between 1978 and 2009, Finnish scientists used light traps at night to catch 388,779 moths from 456 species. Eighty of the most abundant species were then analyzed.
Hunter used a statistical technique called time series analysis to examine how various ecological forces, including climate, affected per capita population growth.
Scientists want to know how climate change will impact insects because the six-legged creatures play key roles as agricultural pests, pollinators, food sources for vertebrates, vectors of human disease, and drivers of various ecosystem processes.
Researchers believe that butterflies and moths may be particularly susceptible to population fluctuations in response to climate changeespecially at high latitudes and high elevations.
Most recent studies of moth abundance have shown population declines. So Hunter and his colleagues were surprised to find that 90 percent of the moth species in the Lapland study were either stable or increasing.
On one level, the results can be viewed as a good news climate story: In the face of a rapid environmental change, these moths appear to be thriving, suggesting that they are more resilient than scientists had expected, Hunter said.
But the other side of that coin is that unknown ecological forces appear to be buffering the harmful effects of climate chang
|Contact: Jim Erickson|
University of Michigan