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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Early Spring Impacts Humans And Other Living Things

A woman uses her cell phone to take a pictures as the cherry blossoms begin to bloom at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, March 22, 2016. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman uses her cell phone to take a pictures as the cherry blossoms begin to bloom at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, March 22, 2016. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The unseasonably warm weather in the U.S. and all over the world has not only set records, but it may be an indicator of what’s to come.

Researchers say climate change will shorten winters by two to three weeks. And the early spring has impacts on many species.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Jake Weltzin, an ecologist with the US Geological Survey and executive director of the National Phenology Network. The organization tracks the timing of nature’s cycles, such as when flowers bloom and birds migrate.

Weltzin says the seasonal changes could skew the alignment of plants and animals that need to coordinate their cycles.

“We change the whole timing of the system,” Weltzin said. “Migratory birds that come up from South America don’t necessarily know that it’s a warm, early spring in North America. And so they may be arriving at the wrong time of year and end up becoming mismatched with the prey they need to eat to feed their young.”

Weltzin adds that some early arrivals might not be what humans want.

“Think about pollen…you end up with allergies earlier than ever,” Weltzin said. “Ticks, mosquitoes are important parts of the system, but they might be out three weeks early.”

The ultimate question, Weltzin says, is how humans, plants and animals adjust to the reality of an earlier spring and a warmer climate.

“That’s the million dollar question,” Weltzin said. “Do we start agricultural production earlier, do we change how we set up for fire years, how do we change different kinds of crops to adjust for drought? How are we thinking about human allergies and responses to disease?”



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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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