Spring Is Starting Earlier—It’s Not Your Imagination

“Birds are heading north before their insect prey emerge. Bees are missing out on early blossoms. Ticks and other pests have more time to feast and spread disease”

From Scientific American: A really early spring can lead to all sorts of unexpected problems,” says Morgan Tingley, an ornithologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The situation will only worsen as climate change makes warmer winters and earlier spring conditions ever more likely. “The issue is when really early springs don’t just become the exception; they become the rule. And that is what we are seeing with climate change in general,” Tingley says. “The extreme has become the typical.  That’s when we start to see stronger, really negative impacts.”

The study of the way species time their behavior with Earth’s cycles is called phenology. For example, birds migrate as the days shorten or lengthen; leaves turn gold or red when temperatures drop. When ecologically intertwined species fall out of alignment with their seasonal cues, it’s called a phenological mismatch. Flowers that bloom in early balmy weather run the risk of mismatching with their primary pollinators—such as hummingbirds or bees—which can follow non-climate-dependent cues such as day length. That means pollinators will miss out on the nectar they need for energy, and the flowers also won’t be fertilized at their regular rate. Those plants will produce fewer seeds and, in the case of crops, fewer fruits. 

The Guardian states: “Spring activity has, meanwhile, arrived at least 20 days earlier than usual for huge swathes of the US south-east and east, with parts of central Texas, south-east Arkansas, southern Ohio and Maryland, along with New York, all recording their earliest spring conditions on record so far this year.”

From USA TODAY: Ecologist Matt Austin examined more than 140 years of pressed flowers and plants in the Missouri Botanical Garden collection to track how violets changed over time. He found the flowers — widely known as one of the first harbingers of spring — are responding to both increased rainfall and warmer temperatures. . . . Spring is early across much of the United States, “but it’s arriving in certain locations earlier than we’ve ever seen it arrive in the 40 years that we have data where we’re tracking things.”

National Phenology Network New York Times (background, see link in Tweet)

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