Species on the move

ZSL press release

Social media posts help researchers to discover climate change is to blame for displacement of 55 species in UK.

New research published in Journal of Applied Ecology.

Segestria florentina (c) Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez

A total of 55 animal species in the UK have been displaced from their natural ranges or enabled to arrive for the first time on UK shores because of climate change over the last 10 years (2008-2018) – as revealed in a new study published today (18 July 2019) by scientists at international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

Making use of a previously overlooked source of data, the team turned to social media to search for rare species sightings. The researchers conducted searches both on Twitter and Google, attributing 10 out the 55 species identified to people posting images online of the animals in unusual places.

The study led by Dr Nathalie Pettorelli of ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, published in Journal of Applied Ecology, explains that, due to regular sightings from environmentalists, UK wildlife is one of the most intensively monitored in the world, but there is very little centralised tracking of species arriving for the first time in the country or moving to places outside of their known UK range, due to climate change.

The analysis also considered UK Government environment reports as well as 111 scientific papers, leading to a total of 55 species (out of 39,029 species in the UK) being identified. The research focused solely on species which had established sustainable populations through natural, rather than human-assisted movement.

Little evidence for any one group of animals showing resilience to the pressures of climate change were seen, with invertebrates, mammals and birds all seemingly impacted by rising temperatures. Of the 55 species identified, 64% were invertebrates, and only one formally classified as an invasive species – the leathery sea squirt (Styela clava).

Species such as the black bee fly (Anthrax anthrax) arrived in the UK for the first time in 2016 and was reportedly found using a garden bug-hotel in Cambridgeshire. The Jersey tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria) previously only seen around Jersey and the south coast of England, is now regularly sighted in London.

Bird species moving with climate change include the purple heron (Ardea purpurea) and tropical-looking European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) – identified by keen birdwatchers – which have been nesting in Kent and Nottinghamshire, quite a stretch from their natural breeding grounds in Africa, central and southern Europe and East Asia.

Seeking to understand the impact of these species’, the study found that 24% of new species arriving or displaced were cited as having negative impacts on ecological communities and human society. Damage to crops, biofouling, human disease spread and increased pressure on planning permissions were all regarded as negative impacts. Some positive impact was recorded, with a boost in tourism after sightings of a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea) in Scotland were reported in 2010 and 2018.

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, lead author and Senior Research Fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology said: ‘We are currently massively unprepared for the climate-driven movement of species that is happening right now in the UK. As it stands, society is not ready for the redistribution of species, as current policies and agreements are not designed for these novel species and ecological communities – particularly if those species have no perceived value to society.

‘Our results suggest that many species are on the move in the UK, and that we can expect a lot of changes in the type of nature we will have around us in the coming years. But the lack of an integrated national platform dedicated to tracking and communicating about species displaced by climate change is currently a hindrance to mitigating those potential ecological, economic and societal associated impacts’.

ZSL scientists are calling for people to submit their rare wildlife sightings on Twitter to @SOTM_UK with #SOTM_UK (species on the move), in order to assist further research on assessing the ecological and societal impacts of wildlife’s movements under a changing climate in the country.

Full paper (free to read for a limited time):

Pettorelli, J. Smith, G. Peel, J. K. Hill, K. Norris (2019) Anticipating arrival: tacking the national challenges associated with the redistribution of biodiversity driven by climate change. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13465

Media contact

Emma Ackerley, emma.ackerley@zsl.org / +44 (0)20 7449 6288

Related images available here: https://zslondon.sharefile.com/d-s4223b3d216a48499

Notes to editors: 

Example species displaced by climate change

  • Anthrax anthrax – Black bee fly

The black bee fly is the only species we picked up which has entered the UK for the first time and established since 2008, the first record of the species was in Cambridgeshire in 2016. It was found on a bug-hotel in a garden. Despite the worrying name ‘Anthrax anthrax,’ which is related to the bee fly’s colour, it is totally harmless.

  • Argiope bruennichi – Wasp spider

The wasp spider is a species of orb-web spider and it mimics a wasp’s colouring to warn off predators and avoid attack. However, despite the warning signals, these spiders are actually harmless. They have previously inhabited southern England but now are spreading further north.

  • Ardea purpurea – Purple heron

The purple heron is an exciting sight for birdwatchers in the UK. This rare bird has been a visitor to Britain before but only nested and bred successfully for the first time in 2010 in Kent. Such an exciting event can attract a lot of attention from birdwatches and in some cases the RSPB have had to give the birds extra protection to ensure their safety.

  • Bombus hypnorum – Tree bumblebee

The tree bumblebee is also a relatively new species to the UK, it arrived in 2001 and has been spreading northwards since. It reached Scotland for the first time in 2013. Although the tree bumblebee is not usually aggressive, they will defend their nest if they feel threatened. Sometimes they are seen to swarm around the nest but this is just the male bees looking for mating opportunities.

  • Euplagia quadripunctaria – Jersey tiger moth

The Jersey tiger moth is a colourful, day-flying moth which can be found feeding on flowers and could be mistaken for a butterfly. This species was restricted to the Channel Islands and the south coast until recently; they are now frequently seen in and around London.

  • Lestes barbarous – Southern emerald damselfly

The southern emerald damselfly is a characteristic metallic green colour, which can turn to bronze as the insect ages. They have been visiting the UK from continental Europe since 2002, but in Norfolk in 2018 they were recorded to be breeding for the first time.

  • Merops apiasterEuropean bee-eater

This tropical-looking bird has also been a visitor in the UK before from its warmer native range in the Mediterranean and North Africa. But for the first time in 2014 and again in 2017, pairs have nested and bred in the UK. They often nest in sandy banks near to rivers.

  • Mullus surmuletus – Red mullet

The red mullet, also known as the goatfish or striped mullet, is a popular food fish in Europe and found throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea. It is not currently targeted by UK anglers but if populations increase this could become a popular fishing target.

  • Rhinolophus ferrumequinum – Greater horseshoe bat

The greater horseshoe bats are rare in the UK but populations are increasing, they are listed on the Biodiversity Action Plan list for the UK. They tend to roost in old buildings, such as churches and barn and they feed on midges, moths and other flying insects at night using echolocation.

  • Segestria florentina – Tube web spider

This tube web spider, also known as a cellar spider, may look menacing but it is not dangerous to humans. They are identifiable by their bright green jaws, which are able to bite humans, but they will only bite if provoked – the British Arachnological Society suggests not sticking fingers into their webs to avoid this. The females reach a maximum size of 22mm and males only reach 15mm.

ZSL (Zoological Society of London)

Founded in 1826, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our ground-breaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit www.zsl.org.

Species on the Move 2019 conference

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli will be talking about her research at the Species on the Move conference running from 22nd – 26th July 2019 in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Species on the Move is an interdisciplinary conference series crossing many research areas that are focussed on climate-driven changes in biodiversity and human well-being. The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology. Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales. More information can be found at: www.speciesonthemove.com.

Use of ZSL Images and Video

Photographs, video or graphics distributed by ZSL (Zoological Society of London) to support this media release may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the persons in the image or facts mentioned in the media release or image caption. Reuse of the picture or video requires further permission from the ZSL press office.