Distribution and abundance of animal species
- Observed climate change is having significant impacts on European fauna. These impacts include range shifts as well as local and regional extinctions of species.
- There is a clear poleward trend of butterfly distributions from 1990 to 2007 in Europe. Nevertheless, the migration of many species is lagging behind the changes in climate, suggesting that they are unable to keep pace with the speed of climate change.
- Distribution changes are projected to continue. Suitable climatic conditions for Europe’s breeding birds are projected to shift nearly 550 km north-east by the end of the 21st century under a scenario of 3 °C warming, with the average range size shrinking by 20 %.
- Habitat use and fragmentation and other obstacles are impeding the migration of many animal species. The difference between required and actual migration rate may lead to a progressive decline in European biodiversity.
How is climate change affecting the regional distribution of animals in Europe, and what are the implications for biodiversity?
Observed latitudinal shifts of four species over 25 years in Britain
Note: This graph shows the observed latitudinal shifts of the northern range boundaries of species within 4 exemplar taxonomic groups, studied over 25 years in Britain. (A) Spiders (85 species), (B) ground beetles (59 species), (C) butterflies (29 species), and (D) grasshoppers and allies (22 species). Positive latitudinal shifts indicate movement toward the north (pole); negative values indicate shifts toward the south (Equator). Horizontal lines mark the Median, boxes the 25 to 75 % quartile and whisker the range (up to 1.5 times the interquartile distance). Open Circles are outliers.
- Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming provided by University of York
European variations in the temporal trend of bird and butterfly community temperature index
Note: The map shows the temporal trend of bird and butterfly CTI for each country. A temporal increase in CTI directly reflects that the species assemblage of the site is increasingly composed of individuals belonging to species dependent on higher temperature. The height of a given arrow is proportional to the temporal trend and its direction corresponds to the sign of the slope (from south to north for positive slopes). The arrow is opaque if the trend is significant.
- Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale provided by Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)
Projected impact of climate change on the potential distribution of reptiles and amphibians in 2050
Note: Projected data based on the Generalised Linear Model map using the HadCM3 A2 scenario for the 2050s are compared with the current situation.
- ALARM (Assessing LArge Scale Risks for biodiversity with tested Methods)) provided by Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
- Climate warming and the decline of amphibians and reptiles in Europe provided by Wiley Online Library
Projected changes in the climate niche space of the Small Tortoise shell
Note: This figure shows the future distribution of climate niche space of the Small Tortoise shell (Aglais urticae) under the A2 climate change scenario and two future time periods (2021-2050 left, 2051-2080 right). Dark grey areas show space that remains suitable, magenta areas space that is lost and green areas show space that could be gained under full dispersal. Northern parts of Europe are expected to remain suitable for the Small Tortoiseshell under all scenarios, but large areas of central Europe would become unsuitable. The worst case loss is 55% of its climatic niche by 2080 under no dispersal or 46% loss under full dispersal.
- Climatic Risk Atlas of European Butterflies provided by Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Projected changes in mammalian species richness
Note: Projected changes in in mammalian species richness by 2100 under emissions scenarios B1 (left) and A2 (right) in a 10’ resolution. Units in percentage.
- Potential impacts of climate change on the distributions and diversity patterns of European mammals provided by University of Copenhagen
A wide variety of animal species in Europe has moved northward and uphill during recent decades. The distributions of many terrestrial organisms have recently shifted to higher elevations at a median rate of 11 m per decade, and to higher latitudes at a rate of 17 km per decade (Figure 1) [i]. These range shifts are partly attributable to observed changes in climatic conditions but land-use and other environmental changes also play a role [ii]. In Britain, 275 of 329 animal species analysed over the last 25 years have shifted their ranges northwards by 31–60 km, 52 shifted southwards, and 2 did not move [iii]. However, many species, including butterflies, are failing to move as quickly as might be expected under the current rate of climate change [iv].
Climate change can benefit some species. One example is the wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi), which has multiplied its range in central and northern Europe during the 20th century and is still spreading. This range expansion is at least partly temperature-driven [v]. In Germany, the once rare scarlet darter dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea) has spread from the south, paralleling observed changes in climate, and is now found in every federal state [vi]. Under a scenario of 3 °C warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100, the ranges of European breeding birds are projected to shift by about 550 km to the north-east, whereby average range size would be reduced by 20 %. Arctic, sub-Arctic, and some Iberian species are projected to suffer the greatest range losses [vii].
Climate change has already influenced species richness and composition of European bird communities [viii]. A study of 122 terrestrial bird species indicated that climate change has influenced population trends across Europe since around 1985, with impacts becoming stronger over time. The study shows that populations of 92 species have declined, largely because of climate change, whereas 30 species have generally increased [ix]. In a study of 57 non-migratory European butterflies, 36 had shifted their ranges to the north by 35–240 km and only 2 had shifted to the south in the past 30–100 years[x]. The habitat of 16 mountain-restricted butterflies in Spain has decreased by about one third over the last 30 years, and lower altitudinal limits rose on average by 210 m [xi].
The Community Temperature Index (CTI) is a measure for the rate of change in community composition in response to temperature change. According to changes in the CTI, butterfly communities become increasingly composed of species associated with warmer temperatures. For example, the CTI of butterfly communities across Europe has increased by only 0.014 °C per year from 1970 to 2007. However, temperature has increased by 0.039 °C per year in the same period, that is almost three times faster than the butterfly community could move north [xii]. The finding that the movement of animal species is unable to keep pace with climate change has been confirmed in an analysis of the CTI of several thousand local bird and butterfly communities across Europe (Figure 2) [xiii].
The Arctic contribution to global biodiversity is substantial as the region supports globally significant populations of birds, mammals and fish. The Arctic Species Trend Index (ASTI) has been tracking trends in 306 Arctic species. An analysis of the ASTI over 34 years (1970–2004) has shown that the abundance of high Arctic vertebrates declined by 26 % whereas low Arctic vertebrate species increased in abundance. Sub-Arctic species did not show a trend over the whole time period but they seem to decline since the mid-1980s [xiv]. There is some evidence that climate change has already played a role in the spread of alien animal species.
The northward and uphill movement of many animal species is projected to continue this century. Threatened endemics with specific demands in ecotope or a small distribution range will generally be at greatest risk, in particular if they face migration barriers[xv]. The difficulty of modelling species dispersal is one of the major uncertainties in projections of changes in species distribution. Dispersal is constrained not only by a species’ ability to move but also by factors such as habitat fragmentation and the availability and migratory ability of host plants or prey organisms. It is likely that many species will not be able to track climate change because of dispersal constraints [xvi].
The limited dispersal ability of many reptiles and amphibians, combined with the fragmentation of habitats, is very likely to reduce and isolate the ranges of many of those species, particularly in the Iberian Peninsula and parts of Italy (Figure 3) [xvii]. Similar results were found in a comprehensive study that assessed the future distribution of European butterflies in 2050 and 2080 under three different climate change scenarios [xviii]. The study shows that climate change poses a considerable additional risk to European butterflies (Figure 4). The risk varies considerably under different emissions scenarios and assumptions regarding dispersal ability. Under the high-emission SRES A1FI scenario, 24 % of the modelled butterfly species lose more than 95 % of their present climatic niche by 2080 and 78 % lose more than 50 %. These numbers are reduced to 3 % and 48 %, respectively, for the low-emission SRES B1 scenario. The risk is much lower, and much more similar across scenarios, by 2050.
A study on the effects of projected climate change on 181 terrestrial mammals in the Mediterranean region projected significant declines in species richness (e.g. 68 % of all mammals) during this century even if movement through fragmented landscapes was possible [xix]. A study based on bioclimatic envelope modelling for 120 native terrestrial European mammals under two climate scenarios showed that 1 % or 5–9 % of European mammals risk extinction [xx]. Thirty-two to 46 % or 70–78 % may lose more than 30 % of their current distribution (Figure 5).
Another study simulated phylogenetic diversity for plants, birds and mammals in an ensemble of forecasts for 2020, 2050 and 2080 [xxi]. The results show that the tree of life faces a homogenisation across the continent due to a reduction in phylogenetic diversity for southern Europe (where immigration from northern Africa was not considered) and gains in high latitudes and altitudes
In polar regions, projected reductions in sea ice will dramatically reduce habitat for polar bears, seals and other ice-dependent species. In addition to climate change, these top predators will also be affected by declining fish stocks.
[i] I-Ching Chen et al., „Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming“, Science 333, Nr. 6045 (August 19, 2011): 1024–1026, doi:10.1126/science.1206432.
[ii] O. Schweiger et al., „Multiple stressors on biotic interactions: how climate change and alien species interact to affect pollination“, Biological Reviews 85, Nr. 4 (2010): 777–795, doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00125.x; O. Schweiger et al., „Increasing range mismatching of interacting species under global change is related to their ecological characteristics“, Global Ecology and Biogeography 21, Nr. 1 (2012): 88–99, doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00607.x.
[iii] R. Hickling et al., „The distributions of a wide range of taxonomic groups are expanding polewards“, Global Change Biology 12, Nr. 3 (2006): 450–455, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2006.01116.x.
[iv] MS Warren et al., „Rapid responses of British butterflies to opposing forces of climate and habitat change“, Nature 414, Nr. 6859 (2001): 65–69, doi:10.1038/35102054.
[v] Sabrina Kumschick et al., „Rapid spread of the wasp spider Argiope bruennichi across Europe: a consequence of climate change?“, Climatic Change 109, Nr. 3–4 (Juni 28, 2011): 319–329, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0139-0.
[vi] Jürgen Ott, „Dragonflies and climatic change - recent trends in Germany and Europe“, BIORISK – Biodiversity and Ecosystem Risk Assessment 5, Nr. Special issue (Dezember 30, 2010): 253–286, doi:10.3897/biorisk.5.857.
[vii] Brian Huntley et al., „Potential Impacts of Climatic Change on European Breeding Birds“, PLoS ONE 3, Nr. 1 (Januar 16, 2008): e1439, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001439.
[viii] Nicole Lemoine, Hans‐Christian Schaefer, and Katrin Böhning‐Gaese, „Species Richness of Migratory Birds Is Influenced by Global Climate Change“, Global Ecology and Biogeography 16, Nr. 1 (Januar 1, 2007): 55–64, doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2006.00252.x; Richard D. Gregory et al., „An Indicator of the Impact of Climatic Change on European Bird Populations“, PLoS ONE 4, Nr. 3 (März 4, 2009): e4678, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004678.
[ix] Gregory et al., „An Indicator of the Impact of Climatic Change on European Bird Populations“.
[x] C. Parmesan et al., „Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming“, Nature 399, Nr. 6736 (1999): 579–583, doi:10.1038/21181.
[xi] R.J. Wilson et al., „Changes to the elevational limits and extent of species ranges associated with climate change“, Ecology Letters 8, Nr. 11 (2005): 1138–1146, doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2005.00824.x.
[xii] C.A.M. van Swaay et al., „Butterfly monitoring in Europe: methods, applications and perspectives“, Biodiversity and Conservation 17, Nr. 14 (2008): 3455–3469, doi:10.1007/s10531-008-9491-4.
[xiii] Vincent Devictor et al., „Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale“, Nature Clim.ateChange 2, Nr. 2 (Februar 2012): 121–124, doi:10.1038/nclimate1347.
[xiv] L. McRae et al., Arctic Species Trend Index 2010: Tracking Trends in Arctic Wildlife CAFF CBMP Report (Akureyri, Iceland: CAFF International Secretariat, 2010), http://library.arcticportal.org/1306/1/asti_report_april_20_low_res.pdf.
[xv] Lemoine, Schaefer, and Böhning‐Gaese, „Species Richness of Migratory Birds Is Influenced by Global Climate Change“; T. Dirnböck, F. Essl, and W. Rabitsch, „Disproportional risk for habitat loss of high-altitude endemic species under climate change“, Global Change Biology 17, Nr. 2 (2011): 990–996, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02266.x.
[xvi] O. Schweiger et al., „Climate change can cause spatial mismatch of trophically interacting species“, Ecology 89, Nr. 12 (2008): 3472–3479, doi:10.1890/07-1748.1; Devictor et al., „Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale“.
[xvii] M. B Araújo, W. Thuiller, and R. G Pearson, „Climate Warming and the Decline of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe“, Journal of Biogeography 33, Nr. 10 (Oktober 1, 2006): 1712–1728, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2006.01482.x; Hickling et al., „The distributions of a wide range of taxonomic groups are expanding polewards“.
[xviii] J. Settele et al., Climatic risk atlas of European butterflies Biorisk 1 - Special Issue (Sofia: Pensoft, 2008), http://www.pensoft.net/journals/biorisk/article/568/.
[xix] Luigi Maiorano et al., „The future of terrestrial mammals in the Mediterranean basin under climate change“, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366, Nr. 1578 (September 27, 2011): 2681–2692, doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0121.
[xx] Irina Levinsky et al., „Potential impacts of climate change on the distributions and diversity patterns of European mammals“, Biodiversity and Conservation 16, Nr. 13 (Juni 6, 2007): 3803–3816, doi:10.1007/s10531-007-9181-7.
[xxi] W. Thuiller et al., „Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe“, Nature 470, Nr. 7335 (2011): 531–534, doi:10.1038/nature09705.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Observed latitudinal shifts of four species groups over 25 years in Britain
- Temporal trend of bird and butterfly community temperature index across Europe
- Projected impact of climate change on the potential distribution of reptiles and amphibians
- Projected changes in the climate niche space of the Small Tortoise shell
- Changes in mammalian species richness
- km moved northwards
- Change in the community temperature index
- % of stable species
- % change in species richness
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Species distribution observations and models (also known as habitat models, niche models or envelope models) have been used to calculate the indicator.
Methodology for gap filling
- Chen et al. 2011: Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming Chen, I.-C., Hill, J.K., Ohlemüller, R., Roy, D.B. & Thomas, C.D. (2011) Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming. Science, 333, 1024-1026.
- Devictor et al. 2012: Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale Devictor, V. van Swaay, C. Brereton, T. Brotons, L. Chamberlain, D. Heliölä, J. Herrando, S. Julliard, R. Kuussaari, M. Lindström, Å. Reif, J. Roy, D.B. Schweiger, O. Settele, J. Stefanescu, C. Van Strien, A. Van Turnhout, C. Vermouzek, Z. WallisDeVries, M. Wynhoff, I. & Jiguet, F. (2012) Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale. Nature Climate Change. 2, 121–124.
- Araújo et al. 2006: Climate warming and the decline of amphibians and reptiles in Europe. Araújo, M. B.; Thuiller, W. and Pearson, R. G., 2006. Climate warming and the decline of amphibians and reptiles in Europe. Journal of Biogeography 33: 17121728
- Settele et al. 2008: Climatic risk atlas of European butterflies Settele, J., Kudrna, O., Harpke, A., Kühn, I., Van Swaay, C., Verovnik, R., Warren, M. S., Wiemers, M., Hanspach, J., Hickler, T. und others, 2008, Climatic risk atlas of European butterflies, Pensoft Moscow.
- Levinsky et al. 2007: Potential impacts of climate change on the distributions and diversity patterns of European mammals Levinsky, I., Skov, F., Svenning, J.C. & Rahbek, C. (2007) Potential impacts of climate change on the distributions and diversity patterns of European mammals. Biodiversity and Conservation, 16, 3803-3816.
Data sets uncertainty
Species distribution models (also known as habitat models, niche models or envelope models) suffer from a variety of limitations because species are currently not in equilibrium with climate, and because species dispersal and biotic interactions are largely ignored. Furthermore, climate change projections for Europe include climate conditions (in particular in southern Europe) for which no analogue climate was available for the model calibration. Especially the latter problem is evident for projections for southern Europe since projections of species distribution models lack information from climates south of the Mediterranean. Therefore, the uncertainty in the Mediterranean region is much higher and projected declines might result from a lack of data from climatic situations not included in the model.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming
provided by University of York
Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale
provided by Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)
Potential impacts of climate change on the distributions and diversity patterns of European mammals
provided by University of Copenhagen
Climate warming and the decline of amphibians and reptiles in Europe
provided by Wiley Online Library
Climatic Risk Atlas of European Butterflies
provided by Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 024
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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