Phenology and nature’s shifting rhythms – Regina Brinker


Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar Take a look outside a window. What is the season where you are? How do you know? Most likely, you looked at a tree or plant and noticed details about its leaves and assessed the qualities of sunlight streaming outside. Observing the timing of biological events in relation to changes in season and climate is called “phenology”. When you notice the daffodil buds are poking through the snow and think spring is on its way, you’re using phenology. When you see leaves turn from green to red, and watch migrating birds fly past, and realize that summer is over, autumn is here, you’re using phenology. Literally meaning, “the science of appearance”, phenology comes from the Greek words “pheno,” to show or appear, and “logos,” to study. Humans have relied on phenology since the time of hunters and gatherers. We’ve watched changes in seasons to know when to plant and harvest food and when to track migrating animals. Scientists observe and document seasonal changes in nature and look for patterns in the timing of seasonal events. Timing of these natural signs has remained consistent until recently. Increasing global temperature is causing rhythms of nature to shift. Bud burst, the day when a tree or plant’s leaf or flower buds open, is occurring earlier in the year for some species. For every one degree Celsius rise in temperature, bud burst happens five days earlier than usual. Differences in timing affect not only plants, but the insects and birds that depend on the plants for food. For example, oak trees in the Arnhem Forest of the Netherlands now experience bud burst ten days earlier, as compared to twenty years ago. New oak leaves are a favorite food of winter moth caterpillars. To survive, the caterpillars adapted to the change in the tree’s timing, and now hatch 15 days earlier than before. Migrating pied flycatcher birds, however, aren’t doing as well. The birds prefer to feed their chicks winter moth caterpillars. The caterpillars are now hatching earlier, but the birds’ chicks are not. This delay is costing the birds a food source. The pied flycatcher population has decreased by up to 90% in some areas as a result. Changes to a seemingly simple event, leaves opening, has ripple effects throughout a food web. Earlier bloom times can also have an economic impact. The famed cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. are blooming five days earlier than before. Since the cherry trees are blooming earlier, the blossoms also fade earlier, frustrating thousands of tourists who visit for the Cherry Blossom Festival. High school marching bands plan all year to attend the parade and perform, surrounded by a majestic white canopy. How disappointing for them to find, well, trees rather than the famous cherry blossoms! Plants and animals react to changes in natural light and temperature. Increasing temperatures cause plants to bloom earlier than before, and become out of sync with the insects and birds in a food web. So, the next time you look out your window and notice what season it is, you may be fooled by those blooming trees. Think of phenology, then think of how you can play a part to slow climate change.

62 Replies to “Phenology and nature’s shifting rhythms – Regina Brinker”

  1. even with zero carbon emissions climate will still change. we must adapt to those changes instead of attempting to control them.

  2. I like it how some idiot high-school drop out who sits near his computer wearing nothing but underwear thinks he knows more about global warming causes and progression than the entire scientific community. You are a real genius, if only scientists would also look up that website where you stock up on talking points.

  3. So technically I could write "phenologist with over a decade of experience" into any employment letter and it would be true.

  4. Problem solving is not the problem, tradition is. If humans are so arrogant to think they caused global warming, then they could also be arrogant enough to think they could cause global cooling. Its like fossil vs geothermal. Problems just get stuck in loops of traditional thought. Zero carbon in a carbon based universe? Hmm…

  5. Even if you are very careful to never drop anything on the ground of your room, it's still gonna get filthy from dust over time. You must adapt to the filth in your room instead of attempting to control it.

  6. Not to throll, but to understand. Isn't climat change and it's consequences are natural thing and that why we have that "fittest survives" rule across all species? Please people with data – explain me.

  7. Is that your argument? It's arrogant to think that our collective actions might have consequences, therefore lets ignore what the data says and pretend we live in a vacuum?

  8. This is a new religion, they replaced original sin with global warming, also the clockwork nature is a religious approach, nature adapts, global warming does exists, and human contributing it is a fact, but HOW MUCH is not currently known, therefore blaming people for this natural phenomena is just arrogant.

  9. Look out the window, what season is it? Summer
    How do you know? Everything is on fire and the sky is just smoke.

    Ahh Australia. Confounding expectation.

  10. My high school marching band is going to D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival! I love the cherry blossoms, being there once during the festival before, and I would hate to miss them.

  11. I think part of global warming is all of the things humans have been doing as well as the natural progression of the world, but that doesn't mean human actions should be discredited.

  12. I love our earth but people need to realize that change is part of how our planet functions (actually all of them and everything else that exists). We cannot possibly disturb the natural change of the earth because we are part of the natural change of the earth. Everyone who says we are destroying our planet is really saying that our planet is becoming less suitable for the human species (and many other species). If we continue this, humans will die and the planet will live on happily. Up to us.

  13. Well, I live in South Florida…It looks and feels like Summer all year 'round…my phenological experience is lacking. 🙂

  14. Huh, well it couldn't be technology because technology is a derivative of nature. Maybe nature is just being fickle as it morphs through its evolutionary process. If the earth doesn't want humans here, it will do what it did to the dinosaurs and start over again.

  15. So the caterpillar adapted to his changing environment and continued to thrive, while the birds did not and perished. Sounds like nature is doing the same thing she's always done. I hope the marching bands can learn from the caterpillar.

  16. I was beginning to worry when I realized something was missing in this TED-clip. Then I got to 01:18 and I was relieved to see that it really was a TED presentation. Water melons of the world, unite.

  17. In order for anything to react to anything there has to be some type of quantifiable consciousness. Even nothing would be conscious of nothing because nothing would be the quantifiable other that nothing would compare itself, to define itself as something, thats just point fracture of subconsciousness to consciousness. Thats why the word anti gets used a lot, to try to describe the word anti because it has to think from the opposite side of itself while describing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *