Scientists announced that winter will most probably be shorter in the next century.

Due to climate change caused by global warming and pollution, scientists predict that winter will end three weeks earlier. While this may seem like a minor change, an earlier spring could disrupt the ecosystem balance, especially for the plants and animals whose life cycles depend on seasonal changes.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison used graphic models that they called "Extended Spring Indices" which can help predict when leaves and flowers will come back for spring based on day length.

Based on the model, researchers found that fauna in the Pacific Northwest and Western U.S. regions could experience rapid shifts in their seasonal cycles. The findings of their research is published on the Environmental Research Letters.

These changes will then impact migratory animals that rely on winter length as an important part of their life and breeding cycles. As an example, migratory birds respond to cues present based on winter day length, while plants in their summer breeding grounds respond to local environmental cues like temperature.

"(The birds) may arrive in their breeding ground to find that the plant resources that they require are already gone", said study author Andrew Allstadt, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Wisconsin.

The researchers also looked into false spring incidents, where temperatures drop after spring plant growth has started. While false springs are expected to decrease in most areas, a part of the western Great Plains is thought to experience an increase of them instead.

Allstadt said that the incidents of false springs are devastating in their own right because, like shorter winters, it can also disrupt the normal flow of plant regeneration.

"Plants face an evolutionary tradeoff between the benefit of earlier leaf emergence, and hence, a longer growing season, and the risk of tissue damage from a false spring," Allstadt explained. "In some cases, an entire crop can be lost."

Experts said that changes in season and nature's response to them is here to stay. Earlier this year, a different team of researchers' study suggested that global warming has already made modern day winter shorter than the past.

According to data gathered from more than 11,000 records dating back to the 19th century, spring arrived as much as 14 days earlier due to climate change.

"As far as we can tell it's the largest [historical] data set from North America," said co-author Conrad Vispo from the Cornell University. The researchers' findings also proved that nature was able to adapt to the changes in season length and temperature but warned that once the flora and fauna are unable to cope, disastrous disruptions could result.

"It's not just going for a walk and seeing flowers earlier, it's a much larger issue," said Elizabeth Ellwood, lead author and researcher from the Florida State University. "At some point, some species likely won't be able to keep up with earlier phenology that warming temperatures have dictated."

Photo: Ian Sane | Flickr

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