London Zoo: For the animals, timing is everything | Local


Thoughts of an early spring are intoxicating during a cold, harsh winter, but ever earlier springs due to climate change can be catastrophic due to phenological shifts.

Phenology is the study of periodic biological events such as annual plant flowering, annual migration, and seasonal reproduction. It’s a hot topic right now in scientific circles. Massive changes in the timing of biological events in many species mean that synchronization is off between many species whose success depends on their interactions with each other.

According to a study of 406 species in the UK, plants are flowering on average 26 days earlier than 35 years ago. Their pollinating insects such as bees are less sensitive to the warmer temperatures causing this change, so there are not enough insects around this early to pollinate the plants. With low pollination rates, seed and fruit yields are low. When the insects emerge, they suffer from lack of nectar and pollen, are hungry and suffer from low survival.

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Many birds feed their nestlings with caterpillars, but the timing of this food source and that of bird breeding are not synchronized in many areas. Due to climate change, the caterpillars emerge so early that they are already scarce by the time the chicks need them for growth and maturation. Without this protein-rich food source during critical times, they fail to grow properly or even starve to death, and scientists fear that the extinction of many bird species is a real possibility due to this phenological mismatch. .

Phenological shifts caused by climate change can also threaten the survival of migrating birds. The most affected birds belong to species with long migratory routes or are juveniles on their first migration. Many birds have historically synchronized their migratory flights with the availability of food sources before and during their journey.

Before leaving the breeding grounds in the fall, the birds consume huge amounts of food to increase their fat stores. The stops they make to refuel allow them to take advantage of food-rich areas. If these areas no longer offer abundant food resources when the birds pass, they cannot properly replenish their energy reserves. This can mean going into winter in poor condition and a greater likelihood of not surviving until spring.

For a successful spring migration to return to breeding grounds, birds must refuel before departure. They are limited by the food sources where they overwinter, which generally do not move earlier than those on the breeding grounds. So even if they leave a bit earlier than before, it’s not early enough to take advantage of the peak food availability where they breed.

Thanks to climate change, spring continues to arrive earlier than expected. The problem is not so much being ahead as being out of sync. If you have room left in the worry part of your brain, now is the time to worry about phenological mismatches.

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and the author of six books on canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How to Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.


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