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Why the climate crisis is making our insects run for the hills

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In the Alps and Apennines of southern Europe, nearly all the longhorn beetles are moving uphill, and way up at the peaks, the isolation of a brown butterfly with orange-tipped wings is pushing it towards extinction. This is a snapshot of a global trend. With temperatures rising and pressure on biodiversity growing, insects vital to our ecosystems are not only moving north and south, but up.

Research shows many animals are making similar moves, but insects’ high levels of mobility and short generation times allow them to respond quickly to change, meaning the uphill momentum can be rapid. Bumblebees in the Pyrenees have moved upwards on average by more than a metre a year, with some species making significantly greater journeys. Moths on Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu have followed suit.

All of this makes them a useful indicator of the speed of global heating and ecological impacts at higher altitudes – often biodiversity hotspots and havens for endemic species. To try to grasp the implications, scientists are filling their backpacks and lacing up their walking boots.

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