After a 21-year study, an international team of researchers has presented strong evidence to suggest the Painted Lady butterflies — previously suspected to cross the Sahara desert and oceans to reach Europe — can definitely make the migratory journey of many thousands of miles.

Researchers from Spain, China, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands found not only that Painted Lady butterflies make the trip, but that they do so in greater numbers when wetter conditions in the desert help grow the plants they lay eggs on. The findings increase our understanding of how insects, including pollinators and disease-carrying pests, could spread between continents in the future amid climate change.

“It demonstrates how the wildlife we see in the UK can transcend national boundaries, and protecting such species requires strong international cooperation,” said Tom Oliver, an ecologist at the University of Reading and co-author of a new study on the butterflies that appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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