Although the effects of climate change on biodiversity are increasingly evident by the shifts in species ranges across taxonomical groups, the underlying mechanisms affecting individual species are still poorly understood. The power of climate envelopes to predict future ranges has been seriously questioned in recent studies. Amongst others, an improved understanding of the effects of current weather on population trends is required. We analysed the relation between butterfly abundance and the weather experienced during the life cycle for successive years using data collected within the framework of the Dutch Butterfly Monitoring Scheme for 40 species over a 15-year period and corresponding climate data. Both average and extreme temperature and precipitation events were identified, and multiple regression was applied to explain annual changes in population indices. Significant weather effects were obtained for 39 species, with the most frequent effects associated with temperature. However, positive density-dependence suggested climatic independent trends in at least 12 species. Validation of the short-term predictions revealed a good potential for climate-based predictions of population trends in 20 species. Nevertheless, data from the warm and dry year of 2003 indicate that negative effects of climatic extremes are generally underestimated for habitat specialists in drought-susceptible habitats, whereas generalists remain unaffected. Further climatic warming is expected to influence the trends of 13 species, leading to an improvement for nine species, but a continued decline in the majority of species. Expectations from climate envelope models overestimate the positive effects of climate change in northwestern Europe. Our results underline the challenge to include population trends in predicting range shifts in response to climate change
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