We all love spring, don’t we? Warmer temperatures, sunnier days, in with the new, out with the old. Over the next century spring could be pushed back by three weeks, according to scientists researching the matter.
With the rise of global temperatures already noticeable, scientists with the University of Wisconsin-Madison say that some regions of the United States could see spring on their doorsteps as much as three weeks earlier over the next century. And while this could be good news for some, the scientific implications reflect on ecosystems, flora and fauna and their interdependence.
The research findings are published in the Environmental Research Letters. They pinpoint how the earlier onset of spring affects flora and the animals depending on it. To understand the interdependence better, the researchers turned to the extended Spring Indices. This tool allows the accurate prediction of both leaf and flower emergence dates, in correlation with the length of days. The models included in the extended Spring Indices are relevant for the phenology of a wide variety of plant species.
In southern United States regions, spring arrival has already been pushed back. Here, plant phenology also shifted slightly, causing some birds and animals that rely on certain plant species to search for other nourishment sources.
However, in the Pacific Northwest, models show that over the next century spring could be pushed back by three weeks, causing a rapid change in plant phenology. There will be little time for adaptation. Which means that migratory birds for instance would come to these regions only to find that the plants they depend upon for feeding have emerged, bloomed and withered by the time they completed their migration route.
Another risk associated with earlier springs is called the emergence of false springs. This indicates that after a short period of higher temperatures during which plant growth is enabled, a cold snap follows, freezing the plants and affecting them on the long run. For farmers this translates in entire crops lost to the freezing temperatures. Andrew Allstadt, researcher with the University of Madison-Wisconsin and co-author on the study, commented:
“This is important as false springs can damage plant production cycles in natural and agricultural systems. In some cases, an entire crop can be lost”.
One region particularly predisposed to being affected by the emergence of false springs is the western Great Plains. The research has extensive implications for agricultural production, wildlife populations, plant phenology and climate evolution.
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