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Climate Change Could Make Early Spring Permanent: Here’s How This Could Affect Wildlife

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Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have predicted that spring season may have a permanent early onset due to climate change. This shift could affect the life cycle events of flora and fauna. 

Spring plant growth has shifted its onset to the early part of the year over the past decades because of global warming. The said change in season timing may have a significant impact on wildlife, specifically some mismatches in the availability of plants versus the needs of animals.

To further investigate, the authors used the extended Spring Indices to project the dates of leaf and flower bloom in accordance with the length of day. These models enabled the researchers to obtain the phenology or the periodic plant and animal cycle in relation to the changes in climate.

The findings of the investigation showed that there were swift alterations in plant phenology in the mountainous regions of the United States as well as the Pacific Northwest. Less significant shifts were noted in the southern regions, where spring already occurs early.

"Overall, we project that spring plant phenology will shift by approximately three weeks earlier in the year across the continental United States by the year 2100, with considerable regional variation," researcher Andrew Allstadt told environmentalresearchweb.

The authors also looked into so-called "false springs," which is the return of freezing temperatures after the onset of spring plant growth. The hard freeze that comes with false springs damages the fresh growth, reducing plant productivity, which means less food for animals such as birds to eat. The plants' life cycle will also change.

"If flowers are already out, they tend to be particularly sensitive to the freezing temperatures, meaning fewer fruits and seeds later in the year,"  explained Allstadt. False springs impair the cycles of plant production not only in the natural setting but in man-made agricultural systems as well. 

Allstadt cited the widespread false spring in 2012 which caused an estimated agricultural damage of half a billion dollars in the state of Michigan alone.

A large portion of the Great Plains as well as parts of the Midwest are predicted to experience a rise in false springs. 

Allstadt said their team is furthering their investigation to tackle all types of extreme weather such as heat waves and droughts. He also said that they are specifically interested in the impact of the season timing changes to bird populations in wildlife sanctuaries. 

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Photo: Toni Cruz | Flickr

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