Monitoring butterflies

Conservation action must be based on sound scientific evidence if it is to be effective. Butterfly Conservation undertakes scientific research in collaboration with universities and other organisations around the world in order to provide such evidence.

Our aim is always to publish such research in peer-reviewed journals and, where possible, to make these papers accessible to the public without charge (indicated by * in the publication list below). Much of our research is based upon data gathered through our world-leading recording and monitoring schemes.

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Science News is a biannual email newsletter exploring the wide range of science that Butterfly Conservation is involved with and explaining how we’re applying this to our conservation projects.


Recent scientific publications:



Franks, S.E., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Atkinson, S., Bell, J.R., Botham, M.S., Brereton, T.M., Harrington, R. & Leech, D.I. 2018. The sensitivity of breeding songbirds to changes in seasonal timing is linked to population change but cannot be directly attributed to the effects of trophic asynchrony on productivity. Global Change Biology 24, 957-971.

*Mason, S.C., Hill, J.K., Thomas, C.D., Powney, G.D., Fox, R., Brereton, T. & Oliver, T.H. 2018. Population variability in species can be deduced from opportunistic citizen science records: a case study using British butterflies. Insect Conservation and Diversity 11, 131-142.



*De Palma, A., Dennis, R.L.H., Brereton, T., Leather, S.R. & Oliver, T.H. 2017. Large reorganizations in butterfly communities during an extreme weather event. Ecography 40, 577-585.

*Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B.J.T., Brereton, T.M., Roy, D.B. & Fox, R. 2017. Using citizen science butterfly counts to predict species population trends. Conservation Biology 31, 1350-1361.

*Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B.J.T., Freeman, S.N., Ridout, M.S., Brereton, T.M., Fox, R., Powney, G.D. & Roy, D.B. 2017. Efficient occupancy model-fitting for extensive citizen-science data. PLoS ONE 12, e0174433.

*Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B.J.T., Roy, D.B. & Brereton, T.M. 2017. Urban indicators for UK butterflies. Ecological Indicators 76, 184-193. News story

*Dyer, R.J., Gillings, S.G., Pywell, R.F., Fox, R., Roy, D.B. & Oliver, T.H. 2016. Developing a biodiversity-based indicator for large-scale environmental assessment: a case study of proposed shale gas extraction sites in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 54, 872-882. News story

*Macgregor, C.J., Evans, D.M., Fox, R. & Pocock, M.J.O. 2016. The dark side of street lighting: impacts on moths and evidence for the disruption of nocturnal pollen transport. Global Change Biology 23, 697-707. News story

*Macgregor, C.J., Hoare, D.J., Parsons, M.S. & Lewis, O.T. 2017. Host-plant patch qualities and presence of a likely competitor species affect the distribution and abundance of a rare British moth, Cucullia lychnitis. Journal of Insect Conservation 21, 137-146.

Martay, B., Brewer, M.J., Elston, D.A., Bell, J.R., Harrington, R., Brereton, T.M., Barlow, K.E., Botham, M.S. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2017. Impacts of climate change on national biodiversity population trends. Ecography 40, 1139-1151.

*McDermott Long, O., Warren, R., Price, J., Brereton, T.M., Botham, M.S. & Franco, A.M.A. 2017. Sensitivity of UK butterflies to local climatic extremes: which life stages are most at risk? Journal of Animal Ecology 86, 108-116. News story

*Mills, S.C., Oliver, T.H., Bradbury, R.B., Gregory, R.D., Brereton, T., Kühn, E., Kuussaari, M., Musche, M., Roy, D.B., Schmucki, R., Stefanescu, C., van Swaay, C. & Evans, K.L. 2017. European butterfly populations vary in sensitivity to weather across their geographical ranges. Global Ecology and Biogeography 26, 1374-1385.

*Oliver, T.H., Gillings, S., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Brereton, T., Crick, H.Q.P., Duffield, S.J., Morecroft, M.D. & Roy, D.B. 2017. Large extents of intensive land use limit community reorganization during climate warming. Global Change Biology 23, 2272-2283. News story

*Palmer, G., Platts, P.J., Brereton, T., Chapman, J.W., Dytham, C., Fox, R., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Roy, D.B., Hill, J.K. & Thomas, C.D. 2017. Climate change, climatic variation and extreme biological responses. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 372, 20160144.

Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Beale, C.M., Oliver, T.H., August, T.A., Carroll, M., Massimino, D., Ockendon, N., Savage, J., Wheatley, C.J., Ausden, M.A., Bradbury, R.B., Duffield, S.J., Macgregor, N.A., McClean, C.J., Morecroft, M.D., Thomas, C.D., Watts, O., Beckmann, B.C., Fox, R., Roy, H.E., Sutton, P.G., Walker, K.J. & Crick, H.Q.P. 2017. A national-scale assessment of climate change impacts on species: assessing the balance of risks and opportunities for multiple taxa. Biological Conservation 213, 124-134.

Pocock, M.J.O., Roy, H.E., Fox, R., Ellis, W.N. & Botham, M. 2017. Citizen science and invasive alien species: predicting the detection of the oak processionary moth Thaumetopoea processionea by moth recorders. Biological Conservation 208, 146-154.

*Sullivan, M.J.P., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Newson, S.E., Scholefield, P., Brereton, T. & Oliver, T.H. 2017. A national-scale model of linear features improves predictions of farmland biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology 54, 1776-1784.



*Baker, D., Barrett, S., Beale, C.M., Crawford, T.J., Ellis, S., Gullett, T., Mayhew, P.J., Parsons, M.S., Relf, P., Robertson, P., Small, J. & Wainwright, D. 2016. Decline of a rare moth at its last known English site: causes and lessons for conservation. PLoS One 11, e0157423. News story

*Burns, F., Eaton, M.A., Barlow, K.E., Beckmann, B.C., Brereton, T., Brooks, D.R., Brown, P.M., Al Fulaij, N., Gent, T. & Henderson, I. 2016. Agricultural management and climatic change are the major drivers of biodiversity change in the UK. PloS One 11, e0151595.

*Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B.J., Freeman, S.N., Brereton, T.M. & Roy, D.B. 2016. A generalized abundance index for seasonal invertebrates. Biometrics 72, 1305-1314.

*Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B.J., Freeman, S.N., Roy, D.B. & Brereton, T. 2016. Dynamic models for longitudinal butterfly data. Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics 21, 1-21.

Martay, B., Monteith, D., Brewer, M., Brereton, T., Shortall, C. & Pearce-Higgins, J. 2016. An indicator highlights seasonal variation in the response of Lepidoptera communities to warming. Ecological Indicators 68, 126-133.

Redhead, J.W., Fox, R., Brereton T. & Oliver, T.H. 2016. Assessing species’ habitat associations from occurrence records, standardised monitoring data and expert opinion: A test with British butterflies. Ecological Indicators 62, 271-278.

*Schmucki, R., Pe'er, G., Roy, D.B., Stefanescu, C., Van Swaay, C.A.M., Oliver, T.H., Kuussaari, M., Van Strien, A.J., Ries, L., Settele, J., Musche, M., Carnicer, J., Schweiger, O., Brereton, T.M., Harpke, A., Heliölä, J., Kühn, E. & Julliard, R. 2016. A regionally informed abundance index for supporting integrative analyses across butterfly monitoring schemes. Journal of Applied Ecology 53, 501-510.

Thackeray, S.J., Helaouet, P., Johns, D.G., Jones, I.D., Bacon, P.J., Brereton, T.M., Carvalho, L., Clutton-Brock, T.H., Duck, C., Edwards, M., Elliott, J.M., Hall, S.J.G., Harrington, R., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Pemberton, J.M., Sparks, T.H., Thompson, P.M., White, I., Winfield, I.J., Henrys, P.A., Hemming, D., Leech, D.I., Bell, J.R., Botham, M.S., Burthe, S., Mackay, E.B., Massimino, D., Høye, T.T., Kruuk, L.E.B., Wanless, S. & Atkinson, S. 2016. Phenological sensitivity to climate across taxa and trophic levels. Nature 535, 241-245.


Botham, M., Fernandez-Ploquin, E., Brereton, T., Harrower, C., Roy, D. & Heard, M. 2015. Lepidoptera communities across an agricultural gradient: how important are habitat area and habitat diversity in supporting high diversity? Journal of Insect Conservation 19, 403-420.

Curtis, R., Botham, M., Brereton, T. & Isaac, N. 2015. The rise and demise of the Glanville fritillary on the Isle of Wight. Journal of Insect Conservation 19, 305-311.

Curtis, R.J., Brereton, T.M., Dennis, R.L., Carbone, C. & Isaac, N.J. 2015. Butterfly abundance is determined by food availability and is mediated by species traits. Journal of Applied Ecology 52, 1676-1684.

Dapporto, L., Ciolli, G., Dennis, R.L. H., Fox, R. & Shreeve, T. 2015. A new procedure for extrapolating turnover regionalization at mid-small spatial scales, tested on British butterflies. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 6, 1287-1297.

*Eaton, M.A., Burns, F., Isaac, N.J., Gregory, R.D., August, T.A., Barlow, K.E., Brereton, T., Brooks, D.R., Al Fulaij, N. & Haysom, K.A. 2015. The priority species indicator: measuring the trends in threatened species in the UK. Biodiversity 16, 108-119.

Eglington, S.M., Brereton, T.M., Tayleur, C.M., Noble, D., Risely, K., Roy, D.B. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2015. Patterns and causes of covariation in bird and butterfly community structure. Landscape Ecology 30, 1461-1472.

*Gilburn, A.S., Bunnefeld, N., Wilson, J., Botham, M.S., Brereton, T., Fox, R. & Goulson, D. 2015. Are neonicotinoid insecticides driving declines of widespread butterflies? PeerJ 3, e1402. News story

*Gillingham, P.K., Alison, J., Roy, D.B., Fox, R. & Thomas, C.D. 2015. High abundances of species in protected areas in parts of their geographic distributions colonised during a recent period of climatic change. Conservation Letters 8, 97-106.

Gillingham, P.K., Bradbury, R.B., Roy, D.B., Anderson, B.J., Baxter, J.M., Bourn, N.A.D., Crick, H.Q.P., Findon, R.A., Fox, R., Franco, A., Hill, J.K., Hodgson, J.A., Holt, A.R., Morecroft, M.D., O’Hanlon, N.J., Oliver, T.H., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Procter, D.A., Thomas, J.A., Walker, K.J., Walmsley, C.A., Wilson, R.J. & Thomas, C.D. 2015. The effectiveness of protected areas to conserve species undertaking geographic range shifts. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 115, 707-717.

*Macgregor, C.J., Pocock, M.J.O., Fox, R. & Evans, D.M. 2015. Pollination by nocturnal Lepidoptera, and the effects of light pollution: a review. Ecological Entomology 40, 187-198.

*Mason, S.C., Palmer, G., Fox, R., Gillings, S., Hill, J.K., Thomas, C.D. & Oliver, T.H. 2015. Geographical range margins of a wide range of taxonomic groups continue to shift polewards. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 115, 586-597.

Oliver, T.H., Marshall, H.H., Morecroft, M.D., Brereton, T., Prudhomme, C. & Huntingford, C. 2015. Interacting effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation on drought-sensitive butterflies. Nature Climate Change 5, 941-945. News story

Pescott, O.L., Simkin, J.M., August, T.A., Randle, Z., Dore, A.J. & Botham, M.S. 2015. Air pollution and its effects on lichens, bryophytes, and lichen-feeding Lepidoptera: review and evidence from biological records. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 115, 611-635.

*Pocock, M.J., Newson, S.E., Henderson, I.G., Peyton, J., Sutherland, W.J., Noble, D.G., Ball, S.G., Beckmann, B.C., Biggs, J. & Brereton, T. 2015. Developing and enhancing biodiversity monitoring programmes: a collaborative assessment of priorities. Journal of Applied Ecology 52, 686-695.

*Roy, D.B., Oliver, T.H., Botham, M.S., Beckmann, B., Brereton, T., Dennis, R.L., Harrower, C., Phillimore, A.B. & Thomas, J.A. 2015. Similarities in butterfly emergence dates among populations suggest local adaptation to climate. Global Change Biology 21, 3313-3322.

Roy, D., Ploquin, E., Randle, Z., Risely, K., Botham, M., Middlebrook, I., Noble, D., Cruickshanks, K., Freeman, S. & Brereton, T. 2015. Comparison of trends in butterfly populations between monitoring schemes. Journal of Insect Conservation 19, 313-324.

Suggitt, A.J., Wilson, R.J., August, T.A., Fox, R., Isaac, N.J.B., Macgregor, N.A., Morecroft, M.D. & Maclean, I.M.D. 2015. Microclimate affects landscape level persistence in the British Lepidoptera. Journal of Insect Conservation 19, 237-253.



Bonsall, M.B., Dooley, C.A., Kasparson, A., Brereton, T., Roy, D.B. & Thomas, J.A. 2014. Allee effects and the spatial dynamics of a locally endangered butterfly, the high brown fritillary (Argynnis adippe). Ecological Applications 24, 108-120.

*Fox, R., Oliver, T.H., Harrower, C., Parsons, M.S., Thomas, C.D. & Roy, D.B. 2014. Long-term changes to the frequency of occurrence of British moths are consistent with opposing and synergistic effects of climate and land-use changes. Journal of Applied Ecology 51, 949-957. News story

Mair, L., Hill, J.K., Fox, R., Botham, M., Brereton, T. & Thomas, C.D. 2014.  Abundance changes and habitat availability drive species’ responses to climate change. Nature Climate Change 4, 127-131. News story

*Matechou, E., Dennis, E.B., Freeman, S.N. & Brereton, T. 2014. Monitoring abundance and phenology in (multivoltine) butterfly species: a novel mixture model. Journal of Applied Ecology 51, 766-775.

Oliver, T.H., Stefanescu, C., Páramo, F., Brereton, T. & Roy, D.B. 2014. Latitudinal gradients in butterfly population variability are influenced by landscape heterogeneity. Ecography 37, 863-871.

Pagel, J., Anderson, B.J., O’Hara, R.B., Cramer, W., Fox, R., Jeltsch, F., Roy, D.B., Thomas, C.D. & Schurr, F.M. 2014. Quantifying range-wide variation in population trends from local abundance surveys and widespread opportunistic occurrence records. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5, 751-760.