birds migrating at sunset

Climate change is impacting plant and animal calendars at an alarming rate.

Thanks to the longstanding tradition in the United Kingdom of people observing and recording natural events like flowering, bird migration, or nesting habits, researchers have been able to determine that changing weather patterns are impacting the “calendars” that plants and animals keep. Temperature change tends to have a bigger impact on nature’s cycles than precipitation, so many species know when to do something like build nests based on temperature changes.

But with global climate change impacting temperatures and other aspects of weather throughout the world, those species have started to change when they do what they do. As temperatures rise higher and earlier in the year, plants and animals respond. So far the impact hasn’t been huge, but researchers in the UK estimate that by 2050, species in the middle of food webs, i.e. creatures which consume plants but are in turn consumed by predators, will have shifted their timing about 6 days earlier than they have for generations.

That may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that 2050 isn’t really that far away, and that these changes are based on data collected between 1960 and 2012, so we’re talking about changes like this happening at lightning speed from a geological sense. These are species that have kept the calendars they have for millions of years in some cases, and now these calendars will be thrown off by almost a week after only a century of climate change.

These are the kinds of subtle problems and changes in the world that are caused by climate change, things that don’t get the kind of press that sea levels do, but which can have long term, potentially devastating impacts on ecology. Human activity has a huge impact on the world around us, at every level of the global ecosystem.