The first expected symptoms of a climate change-generated biodiversity crisis are range contractions and extinctions at lower elevational and latitudinal limits to species distributions. However, whilst range expansions at high elevations and latitudes have been widely documented, there has been surprisingly little evidence for contractions at warm margins. We show that lower elevational limits for 16 butterfly species in central Spain have risen on average by 212 m (± SE 60) in 30 years, accompanying a 1.3 °C rise (equivalent to c. 225 m) in mean annual temperature. These elevational shifts signify an average reduction in habitable area by one-third, with losses of 50–80% projected for the coming century, given maintenance of the species thermal associations. The results suggest that many species have already suffered climate-mediated habitat losses that may threaten their long-term chances of survival.