Global warming bringing new species of moths to Ireland

Northerly migration of moths proves climate change is happening now, says scientist

Orange Sallow moth. Changes to the climate and environmental pollution are having devastating effects on moth populations in northern Europe. Photograph: Lee Evans-Hill

Orange Sallow moth. Changes to the climate and environmental pollution are having devastating effects on moth populations in northern Europe. Photograph: Lee Evans-Hill

 

Human-made global warming is bringing new species of moths to Irish shores, a new atlas suggests.

The Rosy Wave, Orange Sallow and Blair’s Shoulder-knot have all been recorded in Ireland since the start of the new millennium, according to the Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths.

They were first spotted in the south-eastern counties of Wexford, Waterford and parts of south Wicklow where they flew over from Wales between 2002 and 2005.

Lead researcher on the atlas, Dr Zoë Randle, said the northerly migration of species of moths and butterflies is a phenomenon observed in northern Europe in recent decades.

She said moths are proof that human-made climate change is happening now and not in the distant future and where moths go, human beings will follow as the Earth heats up.

Great Britain has observed the arrival of new species too, such as the Clifden Nonpareil, Tree-lichen Beauty and Black-spotted Chestnut. Other species, once only found in southern regions of England, are spreading gradually northwards.

The atlas records that 38 per cent of all moth species in Britain and Ireland have spread to other areas in the last 50 years, most as a result of global warming.

Pollution

Changes to the climate and environmental pollution though are having devastating effects on moth populations in northern Europe.

The book lists 893 species in all and the scientists’ analysis of distribution records over the period 1970-2016 in particular showed that 31 per cent of 390 larger moth species decreased significantly in Britain.

Intensive agriculture has caused the decline of many moth species through the destruction of wildlife-rich habitats and use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Widespread environmental pollution such as artificial light at night and chemicals in the air and soil, are altering plant and animal communities in ways that are still not fully understood.

Human-made climate change has facilitated the spread of moths to new parts of Britain and Ireland that were formerly too cold, while at the same time posing a long-term risk to species found in cool and restricted habitats such as mountainsides.

The atlas is based on more than 25 million records sourced from Butterfly Conservation’s National Moth Recording Scheme and the Moths Ireland database. These date from the 18th century through to 2016, meaning this volume contains 275 years of moth-recording effort by the public.

Dr Randle said the same system of comprehensive recording is not yet available in Ireland as it is in Britain, but anecdotally she believes the same patterns are emerging in Ireland.