Tag Archives: Changing seasons

Early springs surprise many species

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE As seasonal change suffers ever more disruption, many species are struggling to adapt quickly enough. LONDON, 7 April – Spring is arriving earlier. This is not necessarily welcome news for Arctic creatures or the roe deer of France. It could be awkward for flower festival organisers as well. Julienne Stroeve of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre and colleagues will report in Geophysical Research Letters that the length of the Arctic melt season is growing by several days each decade. When the melt starts earlier, the Arctic Ocean absorbs more radiation: enough in some places to melt four feet in thickness from the Arctic ice cap. “The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the oceans and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover,” says Stroeve. The Arctic sea ice has now been in decline for four decades. The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the last seven years. A new examination of satellite imagery and data from 1979 to the present shows that the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are freezing up between six and 11 days later per decade. But the earlier melt is more ominous than the later freeze: the sun is higher and brighter, and delivers more warmth to the seas.

Festival disruption

The earlier spring presents no problems for many plants but it may not be much fun for the organisers of flower festivals who like to announce their events well in advance. Tim Sparks of Coventry University reports in the journal Climate Research that over its 46-year history, the Thriplow Daffodil Weekend in Cambridgeshire in eastern England has been forced to bring its dates forward by 26 days. The event can attract up to 10,000 visitors, and has raised £300,000 (US $500,000) for charity, so it clearly helps the organisers to set up some advance publicity. Since 1969, mean temperatures in March and April in the UK have risen by 1.8°C. “The study represents one of the first solid pieces of evidence of flower tourism having to adapt to climate change,” said Professor Sparks. “The issues faced by Thriplow are a microcosm of the wider picture.” Flower festivals may be able to adapt. Sadly, the roe deer of Champagne have yet to get the message about climate change. To flourish, both nectar seekers and herbivores have to time their breeding patterns to the surge in plant growth. Three French scientists looked at records of a population of roe deer in the Champagne region of France, and found that although spring has been arriving increasingly earlier, the fawns are being born at around the same dates as they were 27 years ago, and their survival rate is falling, they report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Biology. Overall, the roe deer population in the region is also in decline. Great tits have kept up with climate change, because reproduction is cued by temperature, so they are around at the same time as the explosion in food sources. What sets the biological pace for roe deer is day length, the authors think, and this is not affected by climate change. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE As seasonal change suffers ever more disruption, many species are struggling to adapt quickly enough. LONDON, 7 April – Spring is arriving earlier. This is not necessarily welcome news for Arctic creatures or the roe deer of France. It could be awkward for flower festival organisers as well. Julienne Stroeve of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre and colleagues will report in Geophysical Research Letters that the length of the Arctic melt season is growing by several days each decade. When the melt starts earlier, the Arctic Ocean absorbs more radiation: enough in some places to melt four feet in thickness from the Arctic ice cap. “The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the oceans and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover,” says Stroeve. The Arctic sea ice has now been in decline for four decades. The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the last seven years. A new examination of satellite imagery and data from 1979 to the present shows that the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are freezing up between six and 11 days later per decade. But the earlier melt is more ominous than the later freeze: the sun is higher and brighter, and delivers more warmth to the seas.

Festival disruption

The earlier spring presents no problems for many plants but it may not be much fun for the organisers of flower festivals who like to announce their events well in advance. Tim Sparks of Coventry University reports in the journal Climate Research that over its 46-year history, the Thriplow Daffodil Weekend in Cambridgeshire in eastern England has been forced to bring its dates forward by 26 days. The event can attract up to 10,000 visitors, and has raised £300,000 (US $500,000) for charity, so it clearly helps the organisers to set up some advance publicity. Since 1969, mean temperatures in March and April in the UK have risen by 1.8°C. “The study represents one of the first solid pieces of evidence of flower tourism having to adapt to climate change,” said Professor Sparks. “The issues faced by Thriplow are a microcosm of the wider picture.” Flower festivals may be able to adapt. Sadly, the roe deer of Champagne have yet to get the message about climate change. To flourish, both nectar seekers and herbivores have to time their breeding patterns to the surge in plant growth. Three French scientists looked at records of a population of roe deer in the Champagne region of France, and found that although spring has been arriving increasingly earlier, the fawns are being born at around the same dates as they were 27 years ago, and their survival rate is falling, they report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Biology. Overall, the roe deer population in the region is also in decline. Great tits have kept up with climate change, because reproduction is cued by temperature, so they are around at the same time as the explosion in food sources. What sets the biological pace for roe deer is day length, the authors think, and this is not affected by climate change. – Climate News Network

Arctic predator faces migration or death

EMBARGOED till 2200 GMT on Friday 18 January There will be winners and losers among Arctic creatures trying to survive intensified climate change, which is already leaving its mark on some plants found far further south. LONDON, 18 January – Climate change, with associated extremes of cold, rain and warmth, could make life very tricky for some of the Arctic’s most charismatic animals. Those with somewhere to go could survive migration to more suitable climates, according to new research in three journals. But those that depend on others for their daily supper could find periodic difficulties. Spring already arrives earlier and flowers are blooming at unprecedented dates, but one or two rare blooms may be extinguished altogether. Conservation biologists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology report in Science that they examined the dynamics of a simple ecosystem on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, at 78 degrees North latitude. The components were the wild Svalbard reindeer, a bird called the Svalbard rock ptarmigan, a European rodent called the sibling vole – and a predator, the Arctic fox. What caused population fluctuations, they found, were simple events: rain on snow, followed by extreme cold. The snow cover would freeze, preventing the reindeer, the ptarmigan and the vole from grubbing for food beneath the snow.  Many would die, populations would crash. However, the Arctic fox – perfectly happy to eat carrion – would do very well on dead reindeer carcasses and flourish. But the following winter, reindeer would be scarce, birds and voles difficult to find and the foxes would starve, one year out of step. Rain on snow, followed by ice, is rare in much of the Arctic, but Svalbard has an oceanic climate: such events could be more common as the high Arctic warms with climate change. Ice on top of snow can damage vegetation and reduce the richness of life in the soil. The Norwegian team think that damage to a community forced to overwinter could cascade through the food web. “The die-offs among resident herbivores shape predator abundance, which could in turn affect the migratory prey that reside in the area in the summer, such as sea birds and barnacle geese,” says Brage Bremset Hansen, lead author of the paper. But some creatures will cope with change, according to ecologists at Umeå University in Sweden. They modelled the distribution of species in northern Europe’s Arctic and sub-arctic land areas and predicted that the climate change expected by 2080 could benefit most mammals – with the exception of the lemming and the Arctic fox, both cold climate specialists.

“…even well-protected and even relatively abundant species may succumb to climate-induced stresses.”

But the “winners” would survive only if they could safely move to new ranges with climates to which they were adapted. “It is highly improbable that all mammals will be able to do so, owing partly to the increased fragmentation of their living environment caused by human beings,” said Christer Nilsson, one of the authors, in PLoS ONE (the Public Library of Science One). One creature with nowhere to go as the world warms could be a rare flowering plant called the Haleakalā silversword, which makes its home high on just one Hawaiian volcanic crater. It grows for between 20 and 90 years before flowering, just once, at the end of its life. Its survival was first endangered by humans who picked the flowers, and by introduced grazing animals: protection arrangements were introduced and the population recovered but, scientists warn in Global Change Biology, it could succumb to global warming. “The silversword example foreshadows trouble for biodiversity in other biological hotspots,” said Paul Krushelnycky of the University of Hawaii, “and it illustrates how even well-protected and even relatively abundant species may succumb to climate-induced stresses.” But there is more benign news from the eastern United States where, on average, spring blossoms appear 11 days earlier than they did when the great American writer and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, began keeping records at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts 161 years ago. And a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, in 2012 and during the warmest spring on record, plants bloomed on average a month earlier than 67 years ago, when the pioneer conservationist Aldo Leopold began keeping notes, researchers report in PLoS ONE. The research has important implications for predicting plant responses to climate change. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED till 2200 GMT on Friday 18 January There will be winners and losers among Arctic creatures trying to survive intensified climate change, which is already leaving its mark on some plants found far further south. LONDON, 18 January – Climate change, with associated extremes of cold, rain and warmth, could make life very tricky for some of the Arctic’s most charismatic animals. Those with somewhere to go could survive migration to more suitable climates, according to new research in three journals. But those that depend on others for their daily supper could find periodic difficulties. Spring already arrives earlier and flowers are blooming at unprecedented dates, but one or two rare blooms may be extinguished altogether. Conservation biologists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology report in Science that they examined the dynamics of a simple ecosystem on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, at 78 degrees North latitude. The components were the wild Svalbard reindeer, a bird called the Svalbard rock ptarmigan, a European rodent called the sibling vole – and a predator, the Arctic fox. What caused population fluctuations, they found, were simple events: rain on snow, followed by extreme cold. The snow cover would freeze, preventing the reindeer, the ptarmigan and the vole from grubbing for food beneath the snow.  Many would die, populations would crash. However, the Arctic fox – perfectly happy to eat carrion – would do very well on dead reindeer carcasses and flourish. But the following winter, reindeer would be scarce, birds and voles difficult to find and the foxes would starve, one year out of step. Rain on snow, followed by ice, is rare in much of the Arctic, but Svalbard has an oceanic climate: such events could be more common as the high Arctic warms with climate change. Ice on top of snow can damage vegetation and reduce the richness of life in the soil. The Norwegian team think that damage to a community forced to overwinter could cascade through the food web. “The die-offs among resident herbivores shape predator abundance, which could in turn affect the migratory prey that reside in the area in the summer, such as sea birds and barnacle geese,” says Brage Bremset Hansen, lead author of the paper. But some creatures will cope with change, according to ecologists at Umeå University in Sweden. They modelled the distribution of species in northern Europe’s Arctic and sub-arctic land areas and predicted that the climate change expected by 2080 could benefit most mammals – with the exception of the lemming and the Arctic fox, both cold climate specialists.

“…even well-protected and even relatively abundant species may succumb to climate-induced stresses.”

But the “winners” would survive only if they could safely move to new ranges with climates to which they were adapted. “It is highly improbable that all mammals will be able to do so, owing partly to the increased fragmentation of their living environment caused by human beings,” said Christer Nilsson, one of the authors, in PLoS ONE (the Public Library of Science One). One creature with nowhere to go as the world warms could be a rare flowering plant called the Haleakalā silversword, which makes its home high on just one Hawaiian volcanic crater. It grows for between 20 and 90 years before flowering, just once, at the end of its life. Its survival was first endangered by humans who picked the flowers, and by introduced grazing animals: protection arrangements were introduced and the population recovered but, scientists warn in Global Change Biology, it could succumb to global warming. “The silversword example foreshadows trouble for biodiversity in other biological hotspots,” said Paul Krushelnycky of the University of Hawaii, “and it illustrates how even well-protected and even relatively abundant species may succumb to climate-induced stresses.” But there is more benign news from the eastern United States where, on average, spring blossoms appear 11 days earlier than they did when the great American writer and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, began keeping records at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts 161 years ago. And a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, in 2012 and during the warmest spring on record, plants bloomed on average a month earlier than 67 years ago, when the pioneer conservationist Aldo Leopold began keeping notes, researchers report in PLoS ONE. The research has important implications for predicting plant responses to climate change. – Climate News Network