Saturday, February 24, 2024

The climate crisis is in full bloom

Phenology is responsible for the study of the changes associated with the seasons experienced by living beings, depending on their own idiosyncrasy and especially the climate cycle. Phenological observations are particularly interesting in flowering plants, which can act as indicators of annual meteorological behavior or even as witnesses of climate change.

Each of the stages in the life cycle of plants – flowering, foliation, flowering, leaf color change and leaf fall – is a result of the activity of plant hormones. These substances are induced in some cases by the plant’s own biological clock and, in many others, by the incidence of environmental factors, such as the quantity and quality of light (photoperiod), the relative humidity of the atmosphere and of land, and maximum and minimum temperatures, especially the extreme.

Global warming in recent decades has changed the meteorological conditions considered normal, introducing great uncertainty during the different phases of the life cycle of plants, causing delays, development or unpredictable behavior.

Flowers, very perfect sensors

Flowers are organs with a complex architecture whose formation requires a high input of substances and energy. The flowering period thus becomes a period of extraordinary sensitivity to environmental changes.

Current global warming is increasing the length of summer in Mediterranean climates. The progress of the previous spring season is more evident, with greater humidity and more moderate temperatures, favorable conditions for flowering.

As a result, it is known that some species open their flowers earlier. This change has various consequences for biodiversity, ecosystems and the services they provide.

Many Cherry Trees Bloom, In The Jerte Valley, On April 4, 2023 In Cáceres.
Archive image of blooming cherry trees in the Jerte Valley, in Cáceres, on April 4, 2023. — Gustavo Valiente / Europa Press

Ecosystem risks

This anticipation of months that are often prone to climatic extremes, such as frost or hail, puts the continuation of fruit and seed formation at risk.

Likewise, the lack of synchronization between flower production and the hatching of insects, key to pollination, reduces seed production by a significant percentage, which means a reduction in the new generation of offspring. The reduction of populations, especially of threatened species, leads to the risk of extinction for many of them.

The nutrient source of fruits and seeds is the basis of the food framework that sustains the ecosystem. The reduced flow of matter and energy makes them more vulnerable to impacts, such as the loss of biodiversity or the inclusion of invasive exotic species.

Less productive fruit trees

The socioeconomic consequences of this improvement in supply services are significant, such as the quality, quantity and cost of agricultural production.

Although it has been observed that some species, in the face of an unpredictable climate, are able to adapt to changes, and despite the development of flowering, maintaining their productive success, the current data in agricultural production is concerned.

Especially fruit trees of the Rosaceae family, such as almonds, cherry trees, plums and pear trees, reduce their productivity or produce poor quality fruits if flowering occurs early.

Archive Image Of Cieza (Murcia) With Rows Of Peach Trees In Bloom, On February 21, 2022.

Allergies also come early

Air quality also changes with the early flowering of many plants. Pollen from olive trees, grasses and plantain shades affects a large part of the population with allergies, which involves a lot of socioeconomic losses as well as a deterioration of health.

The development of flowering in most of these plants represents an extension of the pollen calendar and the incidence of these conditions.

Economic losses for tourism

The great grasslands of the Cape region of South Africa, with their incredible chromatic diversity, are a good example of how flowering can be a great tourist attraction.

Other examples of the cultural value of blossoming are the Hanami of cherry trees in Japan, which is linked to rich traditions, and the cherry trees of Jerte Valley. The unpredictable development of the flower can lead in these cases to large losses in local economies, which find its essential support.

The uncertainty of the future

Climate predictions for the rest of this century raise uncertainty about crop behavior. Rising extreme temperatures, heat waves and hot nights during spring can cause serious changes in the flowering season.

As has happened throughout the history of biodiversity, some plant species are able to adapt their biological clock to the new annual distribution of seasons. In others, on the contrary, the reduction of their productivity will lead to a change in their distribution areas or even local loss.

This article was originally published on The Conversation

The Conversation

World Nation News Desk
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