Thursday, July 07, 2011

Earlier Springs Due to Climate Change?

One of the issues discussed in the paper I reviewed for yesterday's post was the possibility that climate change could interfere with the migration ecology of Red Knots. Climate change theory predicts that a warmer climate will bring more frequent and intense storms to our area. Since severe weather delays the timing of horseshoe crab spawning, future Red Knots could face more frequent springs when they arrive before most horseshoe crabs have spawned. Such a disruption could have a severe impact on their survival.

Disruptions due to a changing climate may harm plants as well as animals. A recent study found that plants are blooming earlier than they used to.

A University of Alberta study shows that climate change over the past 70 years has pushed some of the province's native wildflowers and trees into earlier blooming times, making them more vulnerable to damaging frosts, and ultimately, threatening reproduction.

U of A PhD candidate Elisabeth Beaubien and her supervisor, professor Andreas Hamann of the Department of Renewable Resources, studied the life cycle of central Alberta spring blooms, spanning 1936 to 2006, evaluating climate trends and the corresponding changes in bloom times for seven plant species.

Using thermal time models, the researchers found that the bloom dates for early spring species such as prairie crocuses and aspen trees had advanced by two weeks over the stretch of seven decades, with later-blooming species such as saskatoon and chokecherry bushes being pushed ahead by up to six days. The average winter monthly temperature increased considerably over 70 years, with the greatest change noted in February, which warmed by 5.3 degrees Celsius.
Changes in the time of blooming will no doubt affect the plants' relationships with the insects that pollinate them or other animals that use them for food.