Bulletin of Entomological Research

Research Paper

Flight periodicity and the vertical distribution of high-altitude moth migration over southern Britain

C.R. Wooda1a2 c1, D.R. Reynoldsa3, P.M. Wellsa2, J.F. Barlowa1, I.P. Woiwoda2 and J.W. Chapmana2

a1 Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading, RG6 6BB, UK

a2 Rothamsted Radar Entomology Unit, Plant and Invertebrate Ecology Department, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, UK

a3 Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Central Avenue, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TB, UK


The continuous operation of insect-monitoring radars in the UK has permitted, for the first time, the characterization of various phenomena associated with high-altitude migration of large insects over this part of northern Europe. Previous studies have taken a case-study approach, concentrating on a small number of nights of particular interest. Here, combining data from two radars, and from an extensive suction- and light-trapping network, we have undertaken a more systematic, longer-term study of diel flight periodicity and vertical distribution of macro-insects in the atmosphere. Firstly, we identify general features of insect abundance and stratification, occurring during the 24-hour cycle, which emerge from four years' aggregated radar data for the summer months in southern Britain. These features include mass emigrations at dusk and, to a lesser extent, at dawn and daytime concentrations associated with thermal convection. We then focus our attention on the well-defined layers of large nocturnal migrants that form in the early evening, usually at heights of 200–500 m above ground. We present evidence from both radar and trap data that these nocturnal layers are composed mainly of noctuid moths, with species such as Noctua pronuba, Autographa gamma, Agrotis exclamationis, A. segetum, Xestia c-nigrum and Phlogophora meticulosa predominating.

(Accepted September 20 2008)

(Online publication February 19 2009)


c1 Author for correspondence Fax: +44 118 378 8905 E-mail: c.r.wood@reading.ac.uk