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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press A blue tit flies among dried plants covered with hoarfrost in Belarus. A study published Monday gives the first global look at a worsening timing problem.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 1:00 am

Species go hungry as climate changes

SETH BORENSTEIN | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Global warming is screwing up nature's intricately timed dinner hour, often making hungry critters and those on the menu show up at much different times, a new study shows.

Timing is everything in nature. Bees have to be around and flowers have to bloom at the same time for pollination to work, and hawks need to migrate at the same time as their prey.

In many cases, global warming is interfering with that timing, scientists said.

A first-of-its-kind global mega analysis on the biological timing of 88 species that rely on another life form shows that on average species are moving out of sync by about six days a decade, although some pairs are actually moving closer together.

The study in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gives the first global look at a worsening timing problem.

These changes in species timing are considerably greater than they were before the 1980s, the study said.

“There isn't really any clear indication that it is going to slow down or stop in the near future,” said study lead author Heather Kharouba, an ecologist at the University of Ottawa.

For example, in the Netherlands, the Eurasian sparrow hawk has been late for dinner because its prey, the blue tit, has – over 16 years – arrived almost six days earlier than did the hawk.

It's most noticeable and crucial in Washington state's Lake Washington, where over the past 25 years, plant plankton are now blooming 34 days earlier than the zooplankton that eat them.

That's crucial because that's messing with the bottom of the food chain, Kharouba said.

In Greenland, the plants are showing up almost three days earlier than the caribou, so more of the baby caribou are dying “because there wasn't enough food,” Kharouba said.