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Global Warming, Human Population Pressure, and Viability of the World's Smallest Butterfly

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Abstract:  The effects of climate change and habitat destruction and their interaction are likely to be the greatest challenge to animal and plant conservation in the twenty‐first century. We used the world's smallest butterfly, the Sinai baton blue (Pseudophilotes sinaicus), as an exemplar of how global warming and human population pressures may act together to cause species extinctions. We mapped the entire global range of this butterfly and obtained extensive data on the intensity of livestock grazing. As with an increasing number of species, it is confined to a network of small habitat patches and is threatened both by indirect human‐induced factors (global warming) and by the direct activities of humans (in this case, livestock grazing and collection of medicinal plants). In the absence of global warming, grazing, and plant collection, our model suggested that the butterfly will persist for at least 200 years. Above a threshold intensity of global warming, the chance of extinction accelerated rapidly, implying that there may be an annual average temperature, specific to each endangered species, above which extinction becomes very much more likely. By contrast, there was no such threshold of grazing pressure—the chance of extinction increased steadily with increasing grazing. The impact of grazing, however, decreased with higher levels of year‐to‐year variation in habitat quality. The effect of global warming did not depend on the future level of grazing, suggesting that the impacts of global warming and grazing are additive. If the areas of habitat patches individually fall below certain prescribed levels, the butterfly is likely to go extinct. Two patches were very important for persistence: if either were lost the species would probably go extinct. Our results have implications for the conservation management of all species whose habitats are at risk because of the direct activities of humans and in the longer term because of climate change.
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Language: English

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Biology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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