Page last updated at 13:58 GMT, Sunday, 9 August 2009 14:58 UK

Species climbing to new heights

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Glen Etive
Species are increasingly taking the high road

Growing numbers of wildlife have pushed northwards into Scotland from other parts of the UK and also to higher altitudes, according to experts.

Conservationists suspect climate change has allowed warmth-loving creatures - including snakes and dragonflies - to move into new regions.

However, a tiny spider and a snail face extinction amid higher temperatures.

RSPB Scotland also said research suggested bird behaviour and habitats risk being disrupted by climate change.

A "snakes and ladders-like" situation has emerged in Scotland, where some species have climbed further northwards while others slide towards being wiped out.

Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK (ARG UK) reported grass snakes have moved from England into southern Scotland.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) lists the snake as only being found where it has escaped or been released from captivity.

The losers are the less mobile and those that like cooler conditions
Craig Macadam
Buglife Scotland

ARG UK also said adder have been found at 1,000m up hillsides.

Invertebrates charity Buglife Scotland said orange tip and comma butterflies along with dragonflies such as emperor and black-tailed skimmer have moved northwards.

Last month, a dragonfly found laying eggs in a mountain pond set a UK record for the species according to Highland Council's biodiversity officer.

Jonathan Willet said the female common hawker was at 830m on Tom a'Choinich, north of Loch Affric - the greatest height it has been found in the UK.

The previous highest recorded breeding was at 650m.

Mr Willet said the species - one of 18 dragonfly and damselfly found in the Highlands - favoured warm temperatures.

Buglife Scotland's Craig Macadam said: "The winners from climatic change will be the more mobile, heat-loving species currently found in the south.

"The losers are the less mobile and those that like cooler conditions.

"Scotland has the best representation of upland species in the UK and acts as a refuge for those species becoming rare or extinct elsewhere in the UK and Europe."

He added: "Certainly some of these species may run out of land as they are pushed 'uphill'. Others will move northwards until they reach the far north and have nowhere left to go."

Mr Macadam, a specialist in mayflies, said the upland summer mayfly (ameletus inopinatus) appeared to be retreating up rivers to cooler water temperatures.

Two rare species associated with snow-bed grasslands could come under pressure from warmer temperatures.

The Arctic whorl snail (vertigo modesta) is only found at two sites in the UK, both at high altitude in the Cairngorms.

Red grouse
Red grouse could suffer the same fate forecast for plover

Meanwhile, mecynargus paetulus, a tiny money spider, lives under stones and in snow-bed vegetation.

Mr Macadam said in the UK it has been recorded from only a handful of sites in Scotland.

He added: "In the marine environment the planktonic copepod calanus finmarchius - a cooler water species - has undergone a decline in abundance while a warmer water species, calanus helgolandicus, has pushed northwards and increased in abundance."

RSPB Scotland has concerns for several bird species, but said at this stage there was no credible scientific evidence to show that they were already moving "up the hill".

An area of worry for the charity is what is known as shifting climate space.

It said for Highland birds dotterel and ptarmigan that area of preferred climate might move from upland Scotland far out to sea.

Joint research with the universities of Newcastle and Manchester suggested golden plover, which are found on moors and peat bogs in the Highlands, are breeding significantly earlier than 20 years ago.

Warmer springs were blamed for birds laying earlier and as a result chicks hatching on average nine days before they were in the mid-1981.

Researchers forecast that if climate change predictions prove accurate, golden plovers would be nesting three weeks earlier by 2100.

Greenshank and red grouse may also be affected in the same way.

Meanwhile, increased rainfall in June threaten the survival of capercaille chicks while fewer snow patches lingering on mountains over summers could harm snow bunting which use them as a source of water, the RSPB Scotland said.

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