Quantifying links between human influences on climate, shifting seasons and widespread ecosystem consequences

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Agro-Ecology

Abstract

It has been reported that the time-of-year of many typical indicators of spring, such as egg laying in birds and flowering in plants, has been changing in recent decades. Many of these recurring biological events now happen earlier in the year than they did just a few decades ago. This is believed to be one of the most conspicuous biological impacts of climate change. Far from trivial, these changes could disrupt seasonal relationships between species. This is because different species have changed their seasonal timing to different extents. For example, predators such as some woodland birds may now need to feed their chicks at a time of year at which peaks in their insect food no longer occur, whereas these events may once have coincided. Such changes in the seasonal synchronisation of different species have the potential affect numbers of offspring produced and the survival of populations. A few studies on a small number of species suggest that predators and prey may become de-synchronised because they have different responses to a warming climate but we do not currently know whether this is a general pattern that holds across a large number of species. We also do not currently know how much the observed changes in the timing of spring events has been affected by human-induced climate change, rather than climate change brought about by natural causes. The current project aims to address these gaps in our knowledge by analysing thousands of long-term studies on hundreds of UK plant and animal species and showing whether predatory species have, on average, different responses to climate change compared to their prey and whether these changes are likely to be effects of the human-induced component of climate change. We also aim to establish the regions of the UK, and habitats, in which possible de-synchronisation between predators and prey is most likely by focussing on birds and the insects on which they feed their chicks. This is the first time that so many species from marine, freshwater and dry-land environments have been analysed in a way that allows meaningful comparisons to be made between them, and that allows a statement to be made about the likely significance of human-induced warming for the functioning of a wide range of UK ecosystems.

Planned Impact

We will target the academic community via publishing results in peer-reviewed journals and presenting at scientific conferences, but we hope to reach many more potential stakeholders during the course of the project including key international researchers (Prof. Marcel Visser and Dr Toke Hoye). Our proposal will deliver priority science for a number of organisations, who have contributed to the proposal and will take ownership of key elements of the research agenda. The Met Office, Rothamsted Research and the British Trust for Ornithology are key beneficiaries in this respect. In order to maximise the potential impact of our project, we have contacted key UK statutory bodies: SNH (Ian Bainbridge), Natural England (Mike Morecroft) and CCW (Rhian Thomas). We have invited representatives of each of these bodies to our project start-up and closure meetings, so that they can be informed of the scientific rationale behind the project and results. This will allow them to advise us on how to report our science in a way that would best align with their organisational priorities. We will use a project Wiki page, hosted by CEH, to encourage day-to-day discussions between researchers and stakeholders. We have also contacted Peter Costigan in order to discuss the production of a non-technical synthesis of the project findings for Defra, at project closure.
As the current project makes extensive use of data collected by volunteers under schemes co-ordinated by a range of charitable research/conservation organisations, we can communicate the results of our work to the members and volunteer base via published reports or on organisational webpages. We feel that it is important that these volunteers see the scientific benefits of their continued efforts, and that a major societal impact will be that our work will reinforce the utility of "citizen science" for pressing environmental issues. The Woodland Trust have already agreed to such dissemination in principle. It is crucial to engage the general public since the issue of climatic change, particularly the anthropogenic component, as a driver of changes in the "signs of spring" is contentious. Our attribution work aims to address this issue and so our work would represent a valuable tool to engage with public opinion regarding the climate change debate. We propose to make full use of CEH press office contacts in order to communicate our findings to the wider public and encourage debate. We will also use CEH's Twitter page (CEH Science News, http://twitter.com/#!/cehsciencenews) as a mechanism for efficient communication of project results to the general public.
 
Description Four hypotheses being tested. All in progress.
Exploitation Route When complete the project will have assessed the risk of climate change desynchronising interactions between components of ecosystems, and will inform mitigation plans.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL http://www.ceh.ac.uk/sci_programmes/shifting-seasons-uk.html
 
Description The results were quoted in the IPCC 5th Assessment.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description 'Net Zero by 2050: An Ecological Policy Response' Bim Afolami MP: Climate Change Conference- Friday 20th September, Rothamsted.
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.bimafolami.co.uk/net-zero-by-2050-a-policy-response/
 
Description BTO swallow/swift phenology and RIS data 
Organisation British Trust for Ornithology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution BTO used the RIS data to examine the correlation between migrating insects and birds. Together, we examined changes in aphid phenology with aerial bird trends (swifts/swallows) as well as changes in winter occurring moths and passerine trends (blue tits etc). In both cases, the insects are strongly associated with these bird species because they are vital food sources.
Collaborator Contribution BTO analysed data
Impact Two meetings, provisional analysis complete. Paper draft expected.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Climate and Nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact KT - Bell, J.R. Climate and Nature. Schools Day 18th July 2013, Rothamsted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Climate change impacts pest and beneficial insects over the last half century: Insights from the UK. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 25-30/9/2016 XXV International Congress of Entomology James Bell Climate change impacts pest and beneficial insects over the last half century: Insights from the UK. Symposium: Climate Change Impacts and Insect Population Dynamics. Orlando, Florida
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ice2016orlando.org/
 
Description Invited seminar at University of Helsinki 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to deliver this seminar by staff at the University of Helsinki as part of their postgraduate training programme, though the event was attended by undergraduates and staff as well. It was attended by >50 people and stimulated questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited talk for the Scottish Freshwater Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give the opening talk at the meeting, which was attended by approximately 80 people. The seminar was well received and stimulated questions and debate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Quantifying links between human influences on climate, shifting seasons and widespread ecosystem consequences 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Bell, J.R. et al. SPACE II. Quantifying links between human influences on climate, shifting seasons and widespread ecosystem consequences Royal Entomological Society Climate Change Special Interest Group, 16th October, Rothamsted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.royensoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/CLIMATE_CHANGE_PROGRAMME_BOOKLET_2013.pdf
 
Description Regional differences in phenological responses of aphids, butterflies, moths and birds across the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Bell et al. Regional differences in phenological responses of aphids, butterflies, moths and birds across the UK. Royal Entomological Society Annual National Science Meeting - Ento '16. Harper Adams University, Edgmond, Newport, Shropshire, TF10 8NB
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.royensoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/ento16ConfirmedProgramme_0.pdf
 
Description The effect of habitat on phenological responses: a meta analysis of aphids, butterflies, moths and birds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Bell, J.R., Botham, M., Harrington, R. Henrys, P., Leech, D. & Thackeray, S.J. (2014) The effect of habitat on phenological responses: a meta analysis of aphids, butterflies, moths and birds. European Congress of Entomology Session 'Aphids and their natural enemies' 3rd - 8th August 2014, York
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.royensoc.co.uk/meetings/20140803_ece2014_author_and_programme_listing.htm