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Predators lag prey in climate change adaptations

11 February 2010
butterflyOrganisms at different levels in the food chain are shifting their life cycle schedules at varying rates in response to climate change .The mismatch raises the possibility that ecosystem functions will be thrown off balance.
 
This is the conclusion of a new study based in the United Kingdom, which looked at more than 25,000 recorded changes in 726 types of organisms in the UK, spanning habitats from land to freshwater systems to sea. The changes included shifts in events such as insect flights, bird egg-laying, and plant flowering. From 1976 to 2005, these events occurred an average of 0.39 days earlier each year, advancing by a total of about 12 days.

But not every group of organisms responded the same way. Species higher in the food chain changed their life cycle schedules more slowly than species lower in the food chain, according to the study in Global Change Biology. Since interactions between predator and prey are critical for healthy ecosystems, the timing gap could disrupt pollination and other important events, the researchers say.
 
(Thackeray, S.J. et al. 2010. Trophic level asynchrony in rates of phenological change for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02165.x. )


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In 2008 we published a major new report; 'Plants and climate change: which future'. The report details how plants and climate change are intimately connected, and explains why it is crucially important for us to act now to save the world’s plants.

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