We passed that time of year again. That moment just before spring breaks loose, when king winter gives you one last wack around the ears before hurrying back to its royal halls above the polar circle. We had a serious ‘season of anticipation’ here in Belgium last week – as I like to call it, with an extreme polar vortex driving freezing colds and even a bit of snow. Just when our little plant-friends everywhere were making the last preparations for spring.
And that makes this season of anticipation a tricky balancing act. Plants everywhere are already in full anticipation of spring, but climate change is causing many species to bud earlier and earlier in the season. That in itself is not that much of a problem, tracking climate change is supposedly the best way for an organism to deal with it. A new study in Nature Communications has however shown that this warming climate might – contradictory enough – increase the frost damage experienced by these budding plants.
Indeed, the warming climate does not necessarily reduce freezing spells at the end of winter or in early spring, with perhaps an important role for the increase of extreme events as a result of climate change as well. The authors – of which some of our own Global Change Ecology center – even showed an increase in frost days during the growing season for many species on the northern Hemisphere, and that especially in those regions that are shown to be heating up the most.
The season of anticipation is thus most of all a season of balancing. While many of the earliest budding plant species are evolved to deal with a bit of early-season uncertainty, too much change might very well get them in trouble.
Liu et al. (2018) Extension of the growing season increases vegetation exposure to frost. Nature Communications 9:426.