Extreme weather threatens plant life

A single serious drought can postpone the flowering of European by an average of four days - equivalent to the effect of years of global warming - a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Bayreuth and the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), in Germany, conducted a two-year study into the effect of extreme weather on plants.

By artificially recreating drought and heavy rain conditions, they found that the conditions have a greater effect on plant life than has previously been thought.

According to the study, a one-month drought can push back the flowering time of grassland and heathland plants native to Central Europe by an average of four days – equating to approximately a decade of global warming.

Researchers found that the flowering period of one important early-flowering plant, the common Birds-foot Trefoil, was shortened by more than month.

The study’s results have highlighted the risk that plants and the pollinating insects they rely on for reproduction may fall out of synch as a result of extreme weather events.

“A single extreme drought can have similar effects on flowering as a decade of global warming,” said Professor Anke Jentsch, one of the researchers who conducted the study.

“The climate change with more frequent extreme weather events will have extensive consequences for ecosystems and interactions between species.”

The study also found that two weeks of heavy rain shortened flowering periods by three to five days, and with one flower, the flowering period could be shortened by 37 days and start 26 days earlier.

Changes to the flowering times of plants are seen as one of the most evident signs of global warming.

Previous studies have shown that since 1960, the beginning of spring has been postponed in the northern hemisphere by an average of 2.5 days per decade.

Kate Martin

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