Repository logo

Hot topics in butterfly research: Current knowledge and gaps in understanding of the impacts of temperature on butterflies

Accepted version

Change log


  1. As small poikilotherms, insects are largely dependent on their environment for thermoregulation, and so are particularly vulnerable to changing temperatures.
  2. Butterflies are a well-studied group often used as models to investigate insect responses to temperature. However, little has been done to synthesize and present this large volume of literature in an accessible format, particularly with reference to knowledge gaps and areas rich in information. Using a systematic mapping method, we synthesized the last 40 years of research on the topic of butterfly responses to temperature.
  3. We identified and coded 451 research papers, in which butterfly species were studied 3,198 times. We identified taxonomic groups, regions, and experimental designs that were well or poorly represented.
  4. We found that there was a relatively good balance of representation across butterfly families in relation to the number of species within each family. The tropics were less frequently studied than temperate regions, and there were more studies reporting outcomes on adults than at any other life stage. Finally, in situ studies were more common than ex situ studies.
  5. Taken together, the higher representation of certain regions, life stages and approaches could lead to an incomplete understanding of the impacts of temperature on butterflies, potentially resulting in ill-informed decisions.
  6. We make suggestions for how to resolve these discrepancies in representation, including calling for an increased focus on the tropics, the establishment of butterfly monitoring schemes in the global south, a greater focus on the effects of temperature on non-adult life stages, an increase in experiments investigating fluctuating thermal regimes, and the incorporation of more behavioural responses to temperature in future research. Only by addressing these disparities can we gain a complete understanding of how butterflies will respond to climate change.



4101 Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, 31 Biological Sciences, 41 Environmental Sciences

Journal Title

Insect Conservation and Diversity

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


NERC (NE/V007173/1)
EAJ was supported by a Cambridge Conservation Initiative/Evolution Education Trust Knowledge-Exchange Studentship. AJB was funded by a NERC Highlight topic grant (GLiTRS project NE/V007173/1).