Climate Change And Photoperiodism
Don’t let the seemingly long and fancy word “photoperiodism” throw you off from reading this blog! Though it may sound complex and full of syllables, the definition is simple. ‘Photo’ means light and ‘period’ means length, so together the word photoperiod just refers to how much sunlight plants get per day (how long the daylight is).
Depending on where you are in the world this will change, but at least in the USA we all know that the days are shorter in the winter and longer in the summer. We have memories of leaving school at 5pm in December to a world that looks like the middle of the night or staying up late into the evening during the summer and the sky is still blue.
Certain things we associate with each season rely on the day length. Animals hibernate or migrate in the winter, flowers germinate in the Spring, different species have different mating seasons. However, things that are dependent on climate instead of photoperiod include how fast plants grow, the water supply, and whether changing habitats can support certain species.
These things are all connected. Birds migrate because they sense the days getting shorter, but the place that they stop for the winter has a different supply of plants or insects this year due to the changes in habitat. Sea turtles lay eggs during the summer months but the increase of storms, hotter temperatures, and sea level rise affect their nesting zones. Finally, snowshoe hares turn white in the winter to blend in with the snow. But as temperatures rise and there is less snow, the hares are more vulnerable as easily-spotted prey.
What can you do?
- Research how the species around you are being affected. By finding and studying examples of this near you, perhaps you will be able to come up with short-term solutions to help these species (i.e. growing certain plants in your garden, creating safe-nesting areas, etc.)
- Reduce light pollution. Light pollution also affects animals’ perception of photoperiod, so less light pollution means that animals are following the natural seasons.
- Global climate change and invariable photoperiods: A mismatch that jeopardizes animal fitness, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2019 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6745832/)
- Ecol Evol., National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2019 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31534712/)
- 9 animals that are feeling the impacts of climate change, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2015 (https://www.doi.gov/blog/9-animals-are-feeling-impacts-climate-change)