Plants bloom a month earlier in the UK due to climate change


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The climate change this advancing flowering up to a month, at least in the United Kingdom, according to a new scientific study published in ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society B’, which warns that this fact could have profound consequences for wildlife, agriculture and gardeners.

The Cambridge University team used a citizen science database with records going back to the mid-18th century and analyzed more than 400,000 observations of 406 plant species from the Nature’s Calendar, maintained by the Woodland Trust, and collated the earliest dates. of flowering with instrumental measurements of temperature.

They found that the average date of first bloom from 1987 to 2019 is a full month earlier than the average date of first bloom from 1753 to 1986.

The same period coincides with the acceleration of global warming caused by human activities.

While the first flowers of spring are always a welcome sight, this early flowering may have consequences for UK ecosystems and agriculture. Other species that synchronize their migration or hibernation may be left without the flowers and plants they depend on, a phenomenon known as ecological mismatch, which can lead to biodiversity loss if populations cannot adapt quickly enough.

The change may also have consequences for farmers and gardeners. If fruit trees, for example, flower early after a mild winter, whole crops they can die if the flowers are hit by a late frost.

“We can use a wide range of environmental data sets to see how climate change is affecting different species, but most of the records we have only consider one or a few species in a relatively small area,” said Professor Ulf Büntgen. from the Cambridge Geography department, lead author of the study. “To really understand what climate change is doing to our world, we need much larger data sets that look at entire ecosystems over a long period of time.”

“The results are really alarming because of the ecological risks associated with earlier flowering times,” said Büntgen. “When plants flower too early, a late frost can kill them, a phenomenon most gardeners will have experienced at some point. But the greatest risk is ecological imbalance. Plants, insects, birds, and other wild animals have co-evolved to the point of being synchronized in their stages of development. A certain plant flowers, attracts a particular type of insect, which attracts a particular type of bird, and so on. But if one component responds faster than the others, there’s a risk they’re out of sync, which can cause species to collapse if they can’t adapt fast enough.”

Büntgen says that if global temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, spring in the UK could start in February. However, many of the species on which forests, gardens and farms depend could experience serious problems due to the rapid rate of change.

“Ongoing monitoring is necessary to ensure we better understand the consequences of a changing climate,” said co-author Professor Tim Sparks from the Cambridge Zoology department.

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