Butterflies fluttering in central Europe's mountains may be giving a silent warning that the planet is heating up. \nThat's the conclusion of Czech scientists, who've discovered that at least 12 and as many as 15 species have since 1950 migrated to higher -- and cooler -- elevations in the region's mountains. \nA research team led by entomologist Martin Konvicka of the Czech Academy of Sciences cited global climate change as "the most likely cause" for the dramatic "uphill shifts" of species such as the Black Hairstreak, White Admiral and False Grayling. \nThe migration patterns observed over the past 50 years have affected a wide range of butterflies, many of which are rare or endangered in Europe. British scientists in 2002 found a similar link between global warming and butterfly migration in that country. But the Czech study is the first to describe the phenomenon on the European continent. \nSince the Czech Republic's mountains are "situated near the geographical centre of Europe, the patterns detectable there may well represent the continent as a whole", the Czech study said. \nKonvicka's team looked at native, non-migrating butterflies and conducted the study in a way that attempted to rule out farming, urban sprawl or other types of habitat loss as reasons for the elevation change. \nThey concluded that the evidence gathered "supports the notion that the shifts (in habitat altitude) were indeed caused by a warming climate." \nThe researchers found that each of the 15 species examined has gradually moved uphill over the years, with the change in habitat altitude averaging 90m above sea level. The species making the greatest change, the tiny False Heath Fritillary, now makes its home at an elevation 148m higher than its previous habitat. \n"The shifts were observed on a large scale, in map cells of 11 kilometers by 10 kilometres," Konvicka said. "They reflect pervasive underlaying patterns rather than short-term fluctuations, so even if there are yearly jumps and retractions, the pattern working on a scale of decades is quite clear." \nIn their study, Konvicka and four colleagues from the University of South Bohemia limited the investigation to butterflies and habitats. They did not discuss reasons for global warming or the implications for humans. \nBut Konvicka voiced fears that the Earth's changing climate could drive some butterfly species to extinction, including species that environmental regulators in the EU have carefully tried to protect through land conservation programs. \nKonvicka said he is particularly concerned about the future of the Large Copper, which is now extinct in Britain and threatened in Western Europe. This butterfly has migrated 56m higher in the Czech mountains in the past few years, the study found. \nHe's also worried about the effects of climate change on species that historically live around the tops of European mountains, such as the alpine dwelling Mountain Ringlet. This type "might become imminently threatened in the near future," Konvicka said. \nKonvicka said more could be done to protect habitats and land "stepping stones" such as railroad corridors and abandoned mines, which butterflies could use in their hunts for new, cooler homes. \nHe also advocates mountain management techniques that include "not preventing natural disturbances such as pest outbreaks and wind falls" of trees around the timberline, which would protect butterflies that have been forced to flee to higher elevations.
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