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Early spring blossoms spell blooming disaster for ecosystems

World

Early spring blossoms spell blooming disaster for ecosystems

Global warming isn’t just hard for humans and animals. It’s wreaking havoc on plants, too

Mark Buchanan

The stirrings of springtime, as are occurring in the northern hemisphere now, show nature awakening. Coaxed by warming air and stronger sunlight, flowers unfurl on cherry trees and eager green buds burst forth from horse chestnuts. A little hope returns, as bees buzz and birds build nests. This year, it’s been happening a little earlier — and the reason isn’t hard to find.

In Washington DC, the city’s famous cherry trees — a gift from Japan in 1912 — reached peak blossom on March 21, rather earlier than a century ago. In Kyoto, where these trees’ cousins live, records show the first blooms advancing by a week over the past century, alongside a temperature increase of nearly 3°C. Planetary warming is driving a similar trend globally, shifting the timings of not only the first leaves and flowers, but bird migrations and egg-hatchings. These changes have accelerated in the past 20 years.

We often think of global warming as something made evident only through difficult scientific measurements of atmospheric CO2 levels or average sea-surface temperatures. But signs of warming are all around us in distortions of the historical rhythms of the natural world, adding ominous overtones to the joyous springtime greenery. All these shifts reflect nature under increasing pressure — and hold unpredictable consequences for our wellbeing and the resilience of global ecosystems in coming decades...

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