Craneflies provide food for upland birds like golden plover
Climate change is killing off cranefly and in turn threatening the survival of upland wild bird species that feed on them, RSPB Scotland has warned.
Researchers found the larvae of cranefly - also known as daddy longlegs - perish as warmer summer weather dries out the wet peaty soils they live in.
RSPB Scotland said a dramatic decline of the insect could lead to localised extinctions of some birds.
Ditches are being blocked at Forsinard, Caithness, in a bid to help the larvae.
Research into cranefly decline in the UK and its impact on birds such as golden plover was carried out by the conservation charity and the universities of Aberystwyth, Newcastle and Manchester.
It found that higher late summer temperatures kill the cranefly larvae in peatland soils as the surface dries out, resulting in a drop of up to 95% in numbers of adult cranefly emerging the following spring.
With these craneflies providing a crucial food source for a wide range of upland birds like golden plover, this means starvation and death for many chicks.
In the Peak District, it was found that an average temperature rise of 1.9ºC over the last 35 years had become the most important climatic factor affecting the local golden plover population.
Dr James Pearce Higgins, of RSPB Scotland, said: "This is the most worrying development that I have found in my scientific career to date.
"However, by understanding these processes, we now have the chance to respond. If we can maintain good quality habitats for craneflies then we can help the birds too.
"For example, by blocking drainage ditches on our Forsinard reserve in the North of Scotland we hope to raise water levels and reduce the likelihood of the cranefly larvae drying out in hot summers."