Wildflowers bloom earlier, potentially impacting area wildlife

A new study from the Nature Conservancy in Wyoming has found that many wildflowers and other plants in the Grand Teton-Yellowstone region are flowering and bearing fruit earlier than 50 years ago. Kamila Kudelska of Wyoming Public Radio asked ecologist and co-author Trevor Bloom how the study came about.

Trevor Bloom: The idea for this study certainly came from my colleague, Corinna Riginos, and Corinna worked several years ago for the Teton Science School. And she was teaching from this book, “For Everything There Is a Season: The Sequence of Natural Events in the Teton Yellowstone Region.” And this book, “For Everything There’s a Season,” was written by Dr. Frank Craighead and was a week-by-week account of what you would expect to see in the Teton area.

So suppose you open it up to this week you would talk about how the Aspen begin to bud or set flowers and the mountain bluebirds return from their migration. And when she was teaching this book, she started to realize that things were getting out of sync, they were going haywire. She had the idea to replicate this study, the Craighead study in the future. And basically, that’s where I came in. I just finished my graduate degree in botany. And I was happy to jump in and start replicating that study.

Kamila Kudelska: So what did you do? How did you replicate the study?

VG: The first step, which was pretty fun, so we got the Craighead family archives back. So not only are we using the book, but we actually have the handwritten notes that were written by Dr. Frank Craighead from 1973 to 1978 and again in 1988. And there are these handwritten notes that were on file with him.

He passed away several years ago, but we have received the notes from his family. And we digitized the notes, we turned them into spreadsheets. And then we found about 50 species of plants that had very good records, several years of records, the first flowering date. And then basically I just retraced his footsteps starting at his old historic cabin site, which is now in Grand Teton National Park, walking through sagebrush meadow and up to the top of Blacktail Butte . And along the way, I just recorded all the different flowers that I saw, and what stage they are at. I did it two to three days a week. So twice a week, at least, for four years. Basically, I just have to walk around and look at wildflowers.

KK: Very cool. And then, what did you discover? What were the results?

VG: The results were a bit staggering. We expected some wildflowers to bloom earlier, due to warmer temperatures. It was our assumption. But we had no idea when we started that we’d find many flowers blooming about three weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. earlier than the first sighting by Craighead. In general, we have found that spring flowers, those that come out in May and June come out about three weeks earlier, mid-summer flowers, plants, like lupins that come out in July, come out about 10 days earlier. early. And then the late summer flowers, like goldenrod or willowherb, don’t come out any earlier at all.

KK: What does it mean? You know, why should people care about that? And how can this potentially impact our ecosystem?

VG: There are several reasons why people should be interested. You know, one is, this is just a very clear example of how climate change has already affected the sagebrush ecosystem. A lot of climate change research looks to the future…2050, 2070, we’re going to be living in a very different world. But it’s a concrete example of how the ecosystem has changed since the 1970s. And it’s a very clear story and you’re talking to people in Wyoming and they might not want to engage in a conversation on climate change, but they will certainly engage on how things have changed. since they were growing up. How growing seasons get longer or streams drop later in the season or snow melts earlier.

But in particular, the greatest effects will be felt on wildlife. An example is the sage grouse, so the greater sage grouse is dependent on early spring wildflowers and the insects that pollinate these early spring wildflowers are their primary spring food sources, and their nesting success is directly related to these wildflowers. And because these plants are coming out much, much earlier than they historically were, that could have implications for sage-grouse survival.

Because going out earlier is not necessarily a good thing. This makes these plants more susceptible to early disease. Then freezes and dies. So they come out earlier because it’s warmer and the snow is melting, but then you still have those early April frosts and then all the petals fall off. And then, of course, those plants don’t survive. So there are certainly implications for the sage grouse. And we also talk in the document about implications for bears, as we also found berry shrubs, such as serviceberry, chokecherry and huckleberry. They come out about a week early. And probably they’re still fruiting more than a week earlier than they historically were, which means very important food sources for bears in late fall when they go into hyperesthesia. , a period when they are simply trying to eat as much. as possible, that the berries probably come out more towards the end of the summer than towards the beginning of the fall.

And they might not have the food sources they need before going into hibernation, which could lead to increased human-bear conflict in general. We tend to point out the restoration implications of this is that restoration practitioners in national forest national parks and state parks should really consider in their seed mixes and what they are planting when they are trying to restore habitats, to try to have early flowering species in these seed mixes, mid summer flowering species and even late summer flowering species to try to obtain this overall diversity of flowering times and floral resources for the fauna that depends on them.

Leave a Comment