Earthwatch scientist presents thirty years of research into pollination ecology
Oxford. 17 August 2006. One of the most insidious impacts of global warming will be changes in the timing of flowering in high altitudes, potentially resulting in reduced reproductive success and possible extinctions, according to Dr David Inouye of the University of Maryland, USA.
At a recent Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference in Memphis, Tennessee, Inouye presented more than three decades of data on pollination ecology in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, supported by environmental charity Earthwatch. He reported that global warming could disrupt the timing of pollination in alpine environments, with serious negative impacts on both plants and pollinators.
"High altitudes are one of the habitats where it seems that climate change is having dramatic effects," said Inouye. "The long-term research that I have carried out at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory since 1973, with the assistance of Earthwatch volunteers for many of those years, has allowed me to document some of the changes taking place in flowering.
"The timing of flowering has become earlier, particularly since 1998, the abundance of some flowers has changed, and the synchrony of plants and pollinators may be changing."
Inouye reported that flowering time for plants in the Rocky Mountains is determined by when the snow melts, which is likely to change in response to global warming. There is already some evidence that plants and pollinators are responding differently to climate change.
The ESA meeting focused on the impact of global warming on 'phenology' - the timing of climate-sensitive biological events - including flowering, insect emergence, and bird feeding behaviour. Scientists presented the latest evidence of the impacts of climate change on ecological processes along with new techniques for monitoring these changes, such as remote sensing and networks of ground observers. They also reported predictions of how time-sensitive ecological relationships will change in response to global warming.
For instance, Earthwatch volunteers in the Rocky Mountains helped Inouye assert that global warming affects lower altitudes differently than higher ones. As a result, animals exposed to earlier warm weather may exit hibernation earlier and birds responding to earlier spring weather in their wintering grounds may flock north to find several feet of snow on the ground, risking starvation.
"Already the difference in timing between seasonal events at low and high altitudes has negatively influenced migratory pollinators, such as hummingbirds, which hibernate at lower altitudes and latitudes," said Inouye. "If climate change disturbs the timing of flowering and the behaviour of pollinators such as butterflies, bumblebees, flies and even mosquitoes, then the intimate relationships between plants and pollinators that have co-evolved over thousands of years will be irrevocably altered."
For more information, images and interviews contact Emily May, Earthwatch Press Officer on 01865 318852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.