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Species interactions

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 09 Nov 2012 Published 20 Nov 2012 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
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This content has been archived on 29 Jul 2014, reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/species-ecosystem-relationship-1/assessment-1 was published)
Indicator codes: CLIM 026

Key messages

  • Climate change is affecting the interaction of species that depend on each other for food or other reasons. It can disrupt established interactions but also generate novel ones.
  • Negative effects on single species are often amplified by changes in interactions with other species, in particular for specialist species.
  • The impact of species interactions on ecosystems services depends on whether disrupted interactions can be buffered by system-intrinsic properties or by novel organisms.

How is climate change affecting food networks and other species interactions, and what are the implications for biodiversity?

Projected spatial mismatches of the Portuguese Dappled White butterfly and its host plants

Note: This figure shows spatial mismatches of the Portuguese Dappled White butterfly (Euchloe tagis) and its host plants under the BAMBU scenario (climate: A2) for 2050-2080. Green, suitable climate space for the host plants;orange, suitable climate space for the butterfly; red, suitable area for both butterfly and host plants; open circles, currently observed distribution. BAMBU: Business-As-Might-Be-Usual scenario.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Past trends

Direct observations of the effects of recent climate change on competition are scarce and are generally thought not to have led directly to the extinction of species in Europe [i]. However, independent studies have shown that observed changes in the distribution and abundance of Populus species (a group of trees that are relatively weak competitors) in the Late Glacial (ca. 13 000–10 000 years ago) and in the 20th century could only be explained when the effects of climate change on its competitors were taken into account [ii].

Climate change has already lead to temporal mismatches between species that depend on each other for feeding and for pollination. For example, the egg hatch of the winter moth (Operophtera brumata) has advanced more than the budburst date of its larval food plant, the pedunculate oak (Quercus robur), over the past two decades, with potentially severe consequences for its fitness [iii]. Similarly, over the last 30 years, the occurrence of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the Small White butterfly (Pieris rapae) in relation to the flowering of crucial host plants has changed from about 10 days and 5 days later to about 25 days and 15 days earlier, respectively [iv]. Such temporal mismatches can severely impact pollination activities and the seed set of plants [v]. Climate change has also disrupted several predator-prey relationships, such as between insectivorous birds and their insect prey [vi]. In some cases, differential changes in phenology can also strengthen existing or create new predator-prey relationships, as observed by an increased predation pressure of the fat dormouse (Glis glis) on several songbirds in the Czech Republic [vii].

Climate change can also generate new interactions in novel communities [viii]. In extreme cases, this can lead to severely transformed ecosystems where new species dominate. Such changes are particularly obvious at higher latitudes and altitudes, where growing and reproductive periods are prolonged or where previous thermal constraints are released with climate warming. For instance, the range of the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is no longer limited by temperature in many regions, enabling the species to expand its existing range into new areas and causing serious damage in pine forests [ix].


A study on butterflies in Europe showed that most species are not limited by the distribution of their larval host plants and thus appear rather insensitive to spatial mismatching with their hosts under future climate change. However, there are exceptions such as the Portuguese Dappled White butterfly (Euchloe tagis), which is projected to lose 20–48 % of its current area based on the loss of suitable climatic conditions by 2080, and 50–74 % when a reduced availability of host plants was also considered (Figure 1) [x]. These findings highlight the need for a better understanding of ecological interactions that mediate species responses to climate change.

[i] M. A. Davis, „Biotic globalization: does competition from introduced species threaten biodiversity?“, Bioscience 53, Nr. 5 (2003): 481–489, doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2003)053[0481:BGDCFI]2.0.CO;2.

[ii] Matthew C Peros, K. Gajewski, and André E Viau, „Continental‐scale Tree Population Response to Rapid Climate Change, Competition and Disturbance“, Global Ecology and Biogeography 17, Nr. 5 (September 1, 2008): 658–669, doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2008.00406.x; R. Van Bogaert et al., „Competitive interaction between aspen and birch moderated by invertebrate and vertebrate herbivores and climate warming“, Plant Ecology & Diversity 2, Nr. 3 (2009): 221–232, doi:10.1080/17550870903487456.

[iii] M. E. Visser and C. Both, „Shifts in phenology due to global climate change: the need for a yardstick“, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 272, Nr. 1581 (2005): 2561–2569, doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3356; C. Parmesan, „Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change“, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 37 (2006): 637–669, doi:10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.37.091305.110100; M. van Asch and M.E. Visser, „Phenology of forest caterpillars and their host trees: the importance of synchrony“, Annual Review of Entomology 52 (2007): 37–55, doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.52.110405.091418; C. Both et al., „Climate change and unequal phenological changes across four trophic levels: constraints or adaptations?“, Journal of Animal Ecology 78, Nr. 1 (2009): 73–83, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01458.x.

[iv] O. Gordo and J.J. Sanz, „Phenology and climate change: a long-term study in a Mediterranean locality“, Oecologia 146, Nr. 3 (2005): 484–495, doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0240-z.

[v] G. Kudo et al., „Does seed production of spring ephemerals decrease when spring comes early?“, Ecological Research 19, Nr. 2 (2004): 255–259, doi:10.1111/j.1440-1703.2003.00630.x.

[vi] Marcel E. Visser, Leonard J. M. Holleman, and Philip Gienapp, „Shifts in Caterpillar Biomass Phenology Due to Climate Change and Its Impact on the Breeding Biology of an Insectivorous Bird“, Oecologia 147, Nr. 1 (Februar 1, 2006): 164–172.

[vii] P. Adamík and M. Král, „Climate and Resource-driven Long-term Changes in Dormice Populations Negatively Affect Hole-nesting Songbirds“, Journal of Zoology 275, Nr. 3 (Juli 1, 2008): 209–215, doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2008.00415.x.

[viii] 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.

[ix] C. Robinet et al., „Modelling the effects of climate change on the potential feeding activity of Thaumetopoea pityocampa (Den. & Schiff.)(Lep., Notodontidae) in France“, Global Ecology and Biogeography 16, Nr. 4 (2007): 460–471, doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2006.00302.x.

[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.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Projected spatial mismatches of the Portuguese Dappled White butterfly and its host plants


  • Suitable area [dimensionless]

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package ( 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, 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

Ecological niche models (generalized linear models) for 36 European butterfly species and their larval host plants based on climate and land-use data were developed. The future distributional changes using three integrated global change scenarios for 2080 were projected. Observed and projected mismatches in potential butterfly niche space and the niche space of their hosts were first used to assess changing range limitations due to interacting species and then to investigate the importance of different ecological characteristics.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

Available methods for incorporating species interactions, population dynamics and dispersal processes into models of range shifts are still very coarse, despite several recent approaches to incorporate these.

Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

Biodiversity Biodiversity

climate change | butterflies | biodiversity
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 026
Temporal coverage:
1961-1990, 2051-2080
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


EEA Management Plan

2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100