New Study Shows Climate Change Could Make the Growth of Wildflowers A Rare Occurrence!
To adapt to climate change, some flowers are darkening their color to protect themselves from the sun's radiation, new research shows.
A first-of-its-kind experimental study has found that climate change reduces the abundance of wildflowers and causes them to produce less nectar and fewer and lighter seeds. These changes also impact pollinating insects visiting the flowers: they have to visit more flowers, more frequently, to gather the required food.
Think of climate change, and you’ll probably picture devastating floods, raging wildfires, or parched earth. For the environmentally savvy, coral bleaching or masses of refugees may also make it to the list. Not many of us would think of the vibrant wildflowers in nearby meadows as victims of climate change. But the future of these pretty blooms could be gloomy in the face of a warming planet, suggests a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.
This first-of-its-kind study, conducted in the U.K., found that wildflowers across Northern Europe would likely see a steep decline in abundance — up to 40%. In the experimental study, the researchers simulated the warmer, wetter conditions predicted for the region due to climate change. Under this new scenario, some species of plants produced flowers with 60% less nectar and fewer or lighter seeds. Due to these changes, pollinating insects had to visit more flowers to gather the needed pollen and nectar, and visited each flower more frequently.
“Our results demonstrate that climate warming could have severe consequences for some species of wildflowers and their pollinators in agricultural systems, and shows that their community composition is likely to change in the future,” said lead author Ellen D. Moss, a research associate at Newcastle University in the U.K.
While theoretical studies have predicted that climate change could accelerate pollinator losses and wildflower declines, Moss’s study marks the first time scientists have put the theory to the test in an experimental setting. And previous climate change studies have focused on a small number of either plants or pollinating insects in a particular region, and not looked at the effects at a community level.
“This study adds to the weight of evidence that pollinators are at risk from multiple stressors,” said ecologist Jane Stout from Trinity College Dublin, who was not involved in the study. “They are losing places to feed and breed, and they are stressed by pesticides, disease and changes in climate.” Worldwide, two in five plants, including wildflowers, are threatened with extinction due to land use change for agriculture, housing and construction. In California, which is experiencing increasingly hotter and drier winters due to climate change, studies have recorded a decline of wildflower species by 15% in 15 years. In the U.K., human activities have destroyed about 97% of wildflower meadows since the 1930s, threatening once commonly seen plants like wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), and ragged robin (Silene flos-cuculi).
The loss of wildflowers also has a knock-on effect on thousands of insect species, including pollinators like bees and herbivores like aphids, grasshoppers and caterpillars. It also hits populations of natural pest controllers like spiders, ladybirds and lacewings that take shelter in the meadows. Studies show that, worldwide, a quarter of known bee species have not been seen since the 1990s, and loss of habitat is one of the primary reasons for the decline.
“[Climate change] risks crop pollination and our own food supply, but perhaps of more concern is the risk to wild plant pollination and our ecosystems and all the other benefits we get from them,”