Plant species are under threat as the climate crisis is causing flowering to happen a month earlier on average, according to a new study.
Researchers traced records dating back to the 18th century for hundreds of species and said their findings showing earlier flowering times were “truly alarming”.
This comes with risks for plants, including the potential for them to be killed by late frost, lead author Professor Ulf Buntgen said.
A team lead by Cambridge University found trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers in the UK flowered a month earlier between 1987 and 2019 compared to the period between 1753 and 1986.
The period coincides with accelerating global warming caused by human activity.
Prof Buntgen, from Cambridge’s Department of Georgraphy, said late frost posted a potentially fatal risk to plants that flower too early, but an “even bigger risk” was “ecological mismatch”.
“Plants, insects, birds and other wildlife have co-evolved to a point that they’re synchronised in their development stages,” he said.
“A certain plant flowers, it attracts a particular type of insect, which attracts a particular type of bird, and so on. But if one component responds faster than the others, there’s a risk that they’ll be out of synch, which can lead species to collapse if they can’t adapt quickly enough.”
If global temperatures continue to increase at their current rate, spring in the UK could eventually start in February, he added.
In early January this year, flowers were seen in bloom that were not expected to be out until at least April following record-breaking heat. Daffodils, violets and irises were also out two or three weeks early.
The new research – published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society – looked at the first flowering dates of plants in locations from the Channel and Shetland Islands, and also from Northern Ireland to Suffolk.
Co-author Professor Tim Sparks from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, said: “Continued monitoring is necessary to ensure that we better understand the consequences of a changing climate.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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