Monday, December 21, 2015

The Warmest Autumn: plants and animals respond to record autumn temperatures

Posted by Richard Primack

According to the National Climate Data Center, the autumn of 2015 (September-November) was the warmest ever recorded for the lower 48 states and Alaska.

Tom Ashbrook for the National Public Radio program On Point interviewed me on the biological effects of this unusual weather event. My key point was that such extreme weather creates winners and losers, with many species increasing in abundance and others declining in abundance and even going locally extinct. 

You can also listen to the interview HERE.

Among the observations relevant to this topic:

Many plants are flowering and even leafing out at a time that they should be dormant. Shown above is a forsythia shrub in flower on December 19th in Newton, MA.

Annual plants such as the above yellow wood sorrel are still growing and not yet killed by frost; this plant even has a flower bud.

People are still harvesting plants from their gardens.  Our garden in Newton still has lettuce, Asian celery, and the mustard greens, shown here in flower:

Birds are also remaining north longer than usual. Massachusetts had many new records of late bird observations. In Saco, Maine, 6 species of warbler and other migratory bird species are still present in mid-December. You can keep an eye on autumn bird data collected by citizen scientists at eBird.

Butterflies and dragonflies are also still flying in December at various New England localitites when they normally would be dormant. Monarch butterflies have been seen in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. 

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