Examining climate change impacts on tropical montane butterflies

two butterflies next to each other

Image by Blanca Huertas

Rapid climate change together with rainforest loss makes it vital to understand effects on tropical biodiversity. 


Tropical rainforest species are expected to shift uphill to track climate, potentially leading to depauperate lowland areas, but studies are lacking and so impacts of climate change are hard to predict. This project will capitalise on extensive museum collections to examine drivers of change and their consequences for tropical communities.  


Focussing on Sulawesi (Indonesia), a region where ~40% of butterfly species are endemic, the project will use museum specimens to: 

  1. Quantify patterns of range shift over time, determining the role of climate inlimiting species’ boundaries, and projecting future distributions.
  2. Determine changes in species richness and community composition at sites, and whether changes have been greatest where forest condition and climate suitability have changed most.
  3. Examine changes in body size and wing morphology, and whether changesare greatest in endemics, at locations that have warmed most, and in species that have shown least range shifting.


The project will exploit the extensive Natural History Museum collections, and use new statistical approaches for testing novel ecological questions of global importance. It will focus on Sulawesi (Indonesia), which has exceptional endemic biodiversity threatened by climate change, providing novel ecological understanding as well as information for policy developers for understanding impacts of environmental change.

Time lines

Rapid climate change combined with ongoing rainforest loss makes it vital to determine effects on tropical biodiversity. The relative importance  of climate versus habitat changes on tropical species’ range dynamics is unknown, especially for endemic species, hence the need for this project.

Eligibility and how to apply

Read about eligibilty and how to apply on the PhD opportunities at the University of York ACCE website.

The deadline for applications is 15 January 2021.


Chung‐Huey Wu, J.D. Holloway, J.K. Hill, C.D. Thomas, I‐Ching Chen & Chuan‐Kai Ho (2019) Reduced body sizes in climate‐impacted tropical insect assemblages are primarily driven by range shifts. Nature Communications 10, 4612.  

Scriven, S.A., Williams, S.H., Ghani, M.A., Agama, A., Benedick, S., Brodie, J.F., Hamer, K.C., McClean, C.J., Reynolds, G. & J.K. Hill (2019) Assessing the effectiveness of protected areas at conserving endemic rainforest butterflies on Borneo. Biotropica 52, 380‐391.

Senior, R.A., Hill, J.K. & Edwards, D. P. (2019) Global loss of climate connectivity in tropical forests. Nature Climate Change 9, 623‐626. 

Wheatley, C.J., Beale, C.M., Bradbury, R.B. Pearce‐Higgins, J.W., Critchlow, R. & Thomas, C.D.  (2017) Climate change vulnerability for species – assessing the assessments. Global Change Biology

Theng, M., Jusoh, W. F. A, Jain, A. Huertas, B., Tan, D. J. X., Tan, H.Z, Kristensen, N.P., Meier, R.P. & Chisholm, R. A.  2020. A comprehensive assessment of diversity loss in a well‐documented tropical insect fauna: Almost half of Singapore's butterfly species extirpated in 160 years. Biological Conservation, Vol: 242, Page: 108401.

Apply for this project

Application details for this course can be found on the University of York ACCE website.

Application deadline: 15 January 2021

Any questions?

University of York

Lead supervisor: Prof Jane Hill 


The Natural History Museum

Dr Blanca Huertas

University of York

Colin Beale

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford  

Dr Nick Isaac

ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

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