The Butterfly Effect: Early Spring Could Lead To Wildlife Population Declines

Photo credit: Carol Boggs

A chain of events caused by climate change has led to a decline in butterfly populations in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, researchers at Stanford University recently found.

The study, published in the scientific journal Ecology Letters, could be prescient in determining the long-lasting effects of climate change on many of the world’s species.

As climate change leads to an early spring, the snowmelt caused by the warmer temperatures on the Rocky Mountains decreases the number of summer wildflowers. Fewer flowers, of course, mean less nectar available to butterflies.

In the researchers’ tests, the more nectar female butterflies ate, the more eggs they laid. Therefore, less available nectar led to fewer butterflies being born and, consequently, population declines, they concluded.

If climate change could have such a dramatic impact on butterfly populations, could similar cascading effects be seen in other wildlife species?

It’s quite likely, scientists say, because of the close interconnection among species within an ecosystem.

For instance, earlier snowmelt’s effect on flowers also impacts bees , which pollinate many of the plants that other species rely on for nutrition.

All of these studies serve to remind us of the wide-reaching impacts of climate change.

“Long-term studies such as ours are important to understanding the ‘ecology of place,’ and the effects of weather and possible climate change on population numbers,” says David Inouye, co-author of the paper. “This research is critical to assessing the broader effects of weather on an ever-changing Earth.”

 

Ocean Acidity Eating Away At Important Ecosystems

Photo credit: Toby Hudson

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase ocean acidity levels by 150% by the year 2100, which would have catastrophic effects on the planet’s ecosystems, a new report shows.

The study, conducted jointly by several United Nations (UN) sub-organizations, was prepared by scholars for the UN Climate Change Conference – to be held this June in Rio de Janeiro – in order to educate the global community about the vital need to protect the planet’s oceans from rising carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Ocean acidity levels have increased by 26% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. According to the UN report, even under a business-as-usual scenario, ocean-acidity levels would be destructive enough to dissolve calcium-carbonate phytoplankton and zooplankton species, which serve as a crucial food source in ocean ecosystems.

The impact would be most profound in colder temperate and polar regions, where carbon dioxide is more readily absorbed, wreaking further havoc on already threatened environments.

A grim picture? Perhaps. But the reality could be even worse if steps are not taken to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Nonetheless, and as cliche as it may sound, recognizing the problem is the first step in curing it. The good news is that one of the primary focuses of the climate-change conference in Rio will be to take action to mitigate and adapt to – and even reverse – ocean acidification to protect biodiversity and the planet’s ecosystems.