As temperatures rise, flying insects become slower to migrate to cooler altitudes

                In response to climate change, many plants and animals are moving to higher elevations, seeking cooler temperatures.  But a new study finds that flying insects such as bees and moths may face insurmountable problems with this escape route.


              <img loading="lazy" src="" width="100%" height="100%" alt="Close-up of bees flying into a hive on the UC Denver campus." title="Close-up of bees flying into a hive on the UC Denver campus." typeof="foaf:Image"/>

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        Close-up of bees flying into a hive on the UC Denver campus.


            <em>This story by Jennifer Woodruff was shared with the University of Colorado Denver. </em>

In response to rising global temperatures, many plants and animals are moving to higher elevations to survive cooler temperatures. But a new study by the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) and Georgia Tech finds that for flying insects — including bees and moths — this escape route may have insurmountable problems that could mean their doom.

The research team examined more than 800 species of insects from around the world, and discovered that many winged insects move to higher altitudes much more slowly than their non-flying counterparts. This is because the thin air at high altitudes provides less oxygen for species to use. Because flight requires more oxygen to generate the energy needed for movement than other modes of movement, such as walking, these species migrate more slowly.

The team’s findings were published in this week’s issue The nature of climate change magazine. Jesse Shaicha post-baccalaureate student at CU Denver, is also a member of the research team.

“When we think about where species will be able to live under climate change in the coming decades, we have to remember that animals are sensitive to more than just how hot or cold they live,” said an assistant professor of integrative biology at UC Denver. Michael Moorewho led the study.

Declining insect biodiversity has a direct impact on humans

If the original habitats of flying insects become too warm too quickly, and they cannot find a suitable replacement or adapt in time, this will likely lead to their extinction. In addition to being bad for the insects themselves, the loss of insects is bad news for humans as well. Most crop pollinators are flying species that researchers expect to be endangered, and whose extinction would be disastrous for the global food supply. Not only will this have implications for agriculture and food supply chains, but there are likely to be similar challenges for other species that need a lot of oxygen to survive.

“Earth’s biodiversity is declining rapidly, especially among insects. A global loss of insects would be environmentally catastrophic, so we urgently need to understand why and how this is happening.” James Stroudassistant professor of biological sciences at Georgia Tech.

Expanding research on the challenges of high altitude

To conserve as many species as possible, researchers need to understand the full range of challenges plants and animals face, whether they can overcome these challenges, and to predict where they will survive. Higher environments are also difficult for new species due to food scarcity, strong winds, extreme cold snaps, and increased ultraviolet radiation.

“If we want to design effective conservation strategies, we must take into account the wide range of environmental factors that species need to survive,” Moore concludes.

About Georgia Institute of Technology
the Georgia Institute of Technology, or georgia tech, It is one of the top public research universities in the United States, developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The institute offers Business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts and sciences grades. More than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, on campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technology university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry and community.

About the University of Colorado Denver
theUniversity of Colorado Denver It is the state’s leading public urban research university and equity servicing institution. Globally connected and locally invested, CU Denver collaborates with future-focused learners and communities to design accessible, relevant and transformative learning experiences for every stage of life and career. Across seven schools and colleges in the heart of downtown Denver, our leading faculty inspire students and work side by side to solve complex challenges through boundary-breaking innovation, impactful research, and creative work. As part of the state’s largest university system, CU Denver is a major contributor to Colorado’s economy, with 2,000 employees and an annual economic impact of $800 million. For more information, visit

Acknowledgments: Support was generously provided by the University of Colorado Denver (to MPM and JS) and Washington University in St. Louis and the Georgia Institute of Technology (to JTS). Conversations with J. de Mayo and J. Grady and A. Lenard and input from three reviewers improved this study.

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