Is spring starting earlier?

04 November 2013

Cape sugar bird

Changes in the timing of important life-cycle stages of plants and animals, such as flowering, breeding and migration, have provided some of the strongest evidence of climate change impacts on our natural and managed ecosystems. These changes are important, because they can disrupt food webs, pollinator-plant relationships and predator-prey relationships by changing how (and when) species interact. If we can understand how individual species and ecosystems will respond to future changes, we can more effectively plan how best to help species survive the challenges of the next few centuries, and how also to optimise natural resource management and agricultural production in rapidly-changing times. 

Species may not respond in similar ways across the globe. But it is only recently that we have been able to look for consistent patterns in the Southern Hemisphere. A recent study by a southern colloquium of scientists, including SANBI researchers Phoebe Barnard and Res Altwegg, found that spring life-cycle stages are starting earlier overall. However, there were differences between species: for example, marine species were more likely to start breeding earlier than terrestrial ones, and flowering in plants started earlier than breeding in birds. One of the strongest signals came from Australian grapevines, with varieties in many regions now reaching maturity, or ready for harvest, much earlier than previously.

Rooiels2

So far, we only know a little about how changes seen in single species might impact on the relationship between species and the ecosystem as a whole. This is because, according to the authors of the study, there are large gaps in the information available on changes in the life cycles of plants and animals in many regions. We need to urgently fill these data gaps, as patterns from the Northern Hemisphere are unlikely to be a reliable basis for planning. The Australian website ClimateWatch (www.climatewatch.org.au), which tracks changes in phenology (the timing of life cycle events) for many different kinds of species, was cited as an example as one of the ways of filling the gaps. SANBI is currently considering how best to develop a similar web platform for South African citizen scientists to track these changes. Watch this space.

Download the study Phenological Changes in the Southern Hemisphere at this address: http://www.climatewatch.org.au/uploads/document_attachment/file/52645e203f905e7804000019/SH_Phenology_PLOS_ONE.pdf

Written by: Lynda Chambers, Linda Beaumont and Phoebe Barnard

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Comments

Submitted by salome shabangu at 20/11/2013 - 10:45
The term of SANBI is doing agreat Job for getting all information about our diversity,en the relationship between species en the eco-system,the development of the wep......SANBI U A GREAT..............

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