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Home > Exciting early patterns from the Beagle project

Exciting early patterns from the Beagle project

The phenophase records are growing rapidly and starting to show some very interesting patterns. There are now four tree species with flowering records, two of which (birch and horse chestnut) have records across more than four countries. The birch records are the most numerous so let us consider those first. Records from different countries cover a wide range of locations so is it possible to detect any general pattern across Europe? One way to deal with the records is to consider the average recorded day for each species in each country. These are shown below for the records available by 23 April:

 

 

Hungary

Slovakia

Poland

Germany

U.K.

Birch

28 March

7 April

12 April

15 April

15 April

Horse chestnut

-

13 April

14 April

-

-

 

All except the U.K. data are represented by three or more records.  – indicates that either 1 or no records are available. There are no flowering records yet from Norway.

 

The countries have been arranged from left to right in order of first flowering. You can see that Hungary was much earlier for Birch, followed by Slovakia, Poland and then Germany and the U.K. One record from the Czech Republic of 8 April is in close agreement with the average from Slovakia. This suggests that this year Hungary (and to a lesser extent, Slovakia) have had much milder winters than north-west Europe. We will need to check this against the weather records for the countries and see if the other phenological records support this.

 

Flowering of Horse chestnut differs by only a day between Slovakia and Poland. Single records from Germany, Hungary and Romania follow within 4-6 days.

 

Another way of representing these records is to show the number of days difference between flowering records, setting the first country record as 0:

 

 

Hungary

Slovakia

Poland

Germany

U.K.

Birch

0

+10

+15

+18

+18

Horse chestnut

-

0

+1

-

-

 

So, there is a total of 18 days difference between the average flowering day of Birch in Hungary and the average flowering day in Germany or the U.K. What will the difference be for Norway?!

 

Apart from these interesting patterns and what they may tell us about climate across Europe, it is important to remember the wider lessons for biodiversity and sustainability of ecosystems. Changes in the timing of leaf emergence or flowering will affect a wide variety of insects, birds and mammals. Many plant-feeding insects rely on the early emerging leaves of tree species. The biological clocks of the insects need to be in time with those of the trees. A major concern is that climate change will affect the timing of emergence and activity of plants and animals in different ways. This can work to the disadvantage of both the plants and the animals. A plant which depends on pollinator activity may be disadvantaged if it flowers too early when its main pollinators are not yet active. Flowers such as birch will be unaffected as they are pollinated by wind.

 

It is early days in the Beagle project but the signs are that the records will form a wonderful resource to help answer these questions about climate change and its effects on biodiversity and ecosystems.

 

Dr Michael Gillman. Department of Life Sciences, The Open University. 23 April 2010.

Published 06.05.2010, updated 21.05.2010.