Spring-like winter followed by cold snap could harm flora and fauna
The mild winter weather that caused these unbalances in nature ended with the arrival of colder temperatures and north easterly winds at the end of the week. The cold weather now could drastically affect the plants and animals lulled into their early spring behaviours. Plants that are budding now could be caught out by a hard frost that will damage flower and fruit production. This has a knock on effect to insects, birds and other wildlife that depend on the plants for food. “Birds breeding now risking chilling their eggs or have their young chicks hatching out before their food sources are available.” says Paul Stevens, reserve warden at WWT Arundel Wetland Centre.
But if the weather doesn’t get cold enough this winter some pest species, like aphids, may survive a milder winter in larger numbers. A sap-sucking aphid infestation could cause damage to the flora on the reserve but would be a boon for the aphid eating ladybird and hoverfly populations.
The warm weather that prompted shrubs into early bloom could also prompt butterfly eggs to hatch early. “Blue tits try to co-ordinate the hatching of their young to coincide with the peak population of caterpillars, which are the main food source for the chicks. If these events don’t align, blue tit chicks could starve.” continued Paul Stevens. If other wild birds, like lapwing, breed too early the reserve wardens are unable to manage their wet grassland habitat in time. “Once the birds are nesting we cannot risk disturbing them to cut the grasses and sedge, but lapwing, redshank and oystercatchers prefer to build their shallow nests amongst shorter vegetation so they can keep an eye on predators.”
The cold weather has been predicted to ease up again, reverting back to daytime temperatures in double figures this week. Although we enjoy the milder temperatures, the colder weather is required by nature to keep things in balance.
Published 17th January 2012
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