The Effects of Climate Change on Phenology

Welcome back to another blog!

Today, we’ll be talking about the effects of climate change on phenology.

What is phenology may you ask?

Well… According to, “phenology is the study of the timing of the biological events in plants and animals such as flowering, leafing, hibernation, reproduction, and migration”. To put it simply, it’s like a calendar for nature itself. 

One of the biggest examples of phenology is bees and their job to pollinate flowers.

According to a study done by Jane Ogilvie, a Florida State University Scientist, “when researchers think about flower effects on bees, they typically consider floral abundance to be the most important factor, but we found that the distribution of flowers throughout a season was most important for bumble bees … The more days with good flower availability, the more bees can forage and colonies can grow, and the bigger their populations become. We now have longer flowering seasons because of earlier snowmelt, but floral abundance has not changed overall. This means we have more days in a season with poor flower availability.” So when research was actually done, an increase in flowers does not equal to a healthier life for bees. In reality, it effects them badly. In general, for anything, upsetting the balance of nature has consequences.Image result for bee phenology Photo By Jon Sullivan

Let’s move on to another organism: Cicadas.

You know those bugs that are super loud? Decently big? Have huge eyes? Molt and leave shells everywhere? Seem really dumb and run into everything? Yeah… those are cicadas. Though they may not be the prettiest to look at, they are interesting creatures and fascinating to study.

periodical cicada on a leaf Photo By USDAGOV

cicada Photo By Tom Siegfried

Although there are annual cicadas, there are large populations of cicadas that are called “periodical” cicadas and should only come out either every 13 or 17 years depending on the species. However, recent events showed that some species of cicadas emerged four years early! Why would this happen?

Cicadas are sensitive to the temperature of the soil. As nymphs, they rely on their biological clock to tell them when they can emerge from the ground and begin their brief life. According to an article by Knvul Sheikh on the called Brood Awakening: 17-Year Cicadas Emerge 4 Years Early, “when the soil reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit in a given year, they all emerge together. Experts think evolution has favored this strategy as a way of overwhelming predators like birds and squirrels so cicadas can mate frantically and lay eggs before they die in a few weeks”. 

Normally, like stated above, it takes 13 or 17 years for the cicadas to emerge. However, due to climate change, the soil can increase in temperature way faster than usual. Thus, causing them to emerge from the ground four years (or however many years) early. This causes an imbalance in their reproductive instinct and also effects the wildlife around them. Cicadas are not harmful to humans, but according to, cicada “eggs are laid in slits in twigs, so during large emergences of periodical cicadas they can cause substantial damage to branches of trees and shrubs”. While this in not a ginormous problem, it still has an impact on the environment.

A phenologist has to be able to create and comprehend data in order to figure out the problems seen in the environment. Scatter plots are a heavily used form of graphing in the field. For example, I’ll show you my scatter plots from data first recorded by the United Kingdom Meteorological Office on temperatures in three cities ranging from the years 1659 to 2016. 

My first scatter plot shows the mean annual temperature:

My second scatter plot shows the mean temperature from February to April:

My third scatter plot shows the mean temperature from March to May:

For all three of these scatter plots, I used “years since 1659” as my x-axis and the “average temperature (C)” as my y-axis. I did this because the independent variable tends to go on the x-axis while the dependent variable tends to go on the y-axis. 

On all of my scatter plots, I also included a trend line. All of these trend lines are linear and positive. Meaning, all the scatter plots are showing that over time, the temperature is increasing. The closer the correlation is to one, the more close to perfect uphill linear relationship it is. So in my case, the scatter plot showing the mean temperature from February to April is the closest to being a perfect positive linear relationship. 

In other cases, phenologists will be comparing a different type of data that relates to both plants and animals. In this next example of mine, I will show you the relationship between the peak flowering times (days since March 1st) in Early Spider Orchids (Ophrys sphegodes), the correlation it has to the first flight of the Solitary Bee (Andrena nigroaenea), and the mean temperature from the years 1848 to 2017.

Scatter plot showing the correlation between peak flowering times, the first flight of bees, and the mean temperature:

This scatter plot clearly shows the beginning and the end of each variable. For example, if I were to look at 7 degrees Celsius, I could tell you that the peak flowering time is still on going while the first flight of bees has pretty much ended. At 10 degrees Celsius, I could tell you that the peak flowering time had just ended but that the first flight of bees ended 2 degrees ago. Plots like these help visualize the problem rather than just stating the problem with words.

Along with scatter plots, bar graphs with error bars are also another way to look at the issue. My bar graph specifically looks at comparing peak flowering times and the years, along with bees first flight and the years.

Relationship Between Peak Flowering Time and Years:

Relationship Between Bees First Flight and Years:

In the beginning of the century (1848-1900), both the bee activity and flowering times are very similar. However, near the end of the century (1954-2006), peak flowering time is higher than bee activity. The phenological consequence would be huge if the flowers kept blooming too early or too late regarding the first flight of bees. Bees would have less reproductive success. 

Overall, phenology is clearly an important field that needs to be studied constantly in order to predict or currently see the issues in our environment. However, before the issue is even an issue to begin with, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed: Climate change.

Climate change, according to UC Davis, “refers to significant changes in global temperature, precipitation, wind patterns and other measures of climate that occur over several decades or longer”. While this has become a much more popular topic recently, thanks to science, it is still an ongoing and pressing issue that some people still refuse to believe. 

GlobalWarmingPetarVeinovicDreamstime Photo By Petar Veinovic

Some people refuse to believe in climate change because of political stubbornness. Politics have torn people in two and now logic is being set aside. Other people have trouble trusting science. According to Aeon, a digital magazine, they have four predictors of either science acceptance or science skepticism: “political ideology; religiosity; morality; and knowledge about science”. Some of these predictors are most likely to correlate as well. For example, a person who is conservative in ideology has a higher chance of also having a religious reasoning. 

It is hard to communicate to the public about climate change for these reasons. Not everyone thinks the same way and other factors effect people’s beliefs. There is no one solution to address this challenge. Science can only be presented in so many ways. However, subjects could be presented in such a way to grab the audience’s attention. Like my previous blog about science communication, it is all about connecting with the audience on their level of knowledge and interests.

To start talking about climate change, scientists or simply passionate individuals can discuss the consequences of climate change on the general public. For example, according to a peer reviewed journal by Ciscar, Juan-Carlos et al. called Physical and Economic Consequences of Climate Change in Europe, the authors discuss river flooding, tourism, human health, and the impact on the overall economy.  

In their discussion about river flooding, they state that “river floods are the most common natural disaster in Europe, resulting in large economic losses through direct damage to infrastructure, property, and agricultural land and through indirect losses within flooded areas and beyond … Global warming generally is expected to increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme precipitation events, which may lead to more intense and more frequent river floods”.

When talking about tourism, the authors state that “climate change has the potential to alter tourism patterns in Europe radically by inducing changes in destinations and seasonal demand structure”. For example, if a bunch of coral reefs are dead off the coast of France, who would want to go there? People go to specific destinations for scenery and if those destinations are no longer pretty enough to people’s standards, they will receive less tourism.

Human health is also a huge factor when discussing climate change. According to the journal, “climate change has a range of complex interlinkages with health, including direct impacts, such as temperature-related illness and death and the health impacts of extreme weather events. Other impacts follow more indirect pathways, such as those that give rise to water- and food-borne diseases, vector-borne diseases, or food and water shortages”. In developing countries, this can be a very deadly issue.

How Climate Change Affects Health

Photo By

Last, but most definitely not least, is the impact of the overall economy. Everything mentioned already, like river flooding, tourism, and human health can be linked somehow and over time, effect the overall economy. When the economy is in a bad place, it is very hard to get out, especially if you are dealing with an issue as severe as global warming. 

To end this blog, I would like to reiterate the importance of both phenology and climate change and how they interconnect with each other. While science may not be everyone’s favorite subject, this is not just another mere fact that you can ignore and never remember again. This is part of our lives. Our daily actions are effecting the environment and thus creating a chain reaction to everything else. 

I encourage you to learn more about your footprint on this earth and how we can help the planet from going in ruins at the cause of our own hands. We are one, if not the most intelligent species on this planet. If we figured out everything we currently have today, we can most definitely help fix this place we call home.

mother earth GIF by eyedesyn Giphy By eyedesyn

Until next time!

-Louanne Maes



The Importance of Science Communication

Welcome back!

For my first official blog, we’ll be talking about the importance of science communication!

Communication. When you think about it, it is such a general word. We communicate all the time; with people we know, people we don’t know, through text, through call, in person, through facial expressions, through multiple different emotions, etc. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, communication is simply “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”. Even if you don’t speak the same language as someone, you still communicate with them if you are using hand symbols, facial expressions, etc.

Image result for communication Photo By Marquina Watts

When people think about science, they tend to always picture people in lab coats, working with microscopes, or chemicals. At least that’s what I think of and apparently so does Google when you type in “scientists”. The first couple rows of Google images are exactly that.

Image result for scientists Photo By Beryl Lieff Benderly 

animation presentation GIF by David Urbinati Gif By David Urbinati

Image result for scientists Photo By Andy Peloquin

Although scientists are normal people like everyone else, the general public seems intimidated by a scientist’s work or research. I personally think this has something to do with the way it’s presented. Everything, no matter how complicated the matter is, has to be presented in such a way to fit the type of audience that is listening to the presentation. For example, if someone was presenting a powerpoint on how to perform a quadruple bypass surgery to a group of high school students, the surgeon presenting the powerpoint would need to simplify the process for this specific type of audience. He or she should not use extremely complicated terms, at least without explaining the terms being used. Instead, they should present it simply, but still full with interesting information.

Image result for science communication Photo By Dennis Fink

This is the entire concept of science communication. According to a Youtube video by EU Science & Innovation called “What is Science Communication? – The EU Guide to Science Communication”, Rhonda Smith, the director of Minerva Communication, states the science communication is “communicating to non-experts”. In order to be a good scientist, communication needs to occur outside of the specific field being studied and outside of the scientist community entirely.

As stated from another blogger named Monica Feliu-Mojer in her blog called “Effective Communication, Better Science”, “science communication is part of a scientist’s everyday life. [They] must give talks, write papers and proposals, communicate with a variety of audiences, and educate others”. Feliu-Mojer’s way of describing science communication is similar to the presenters in “What is Science Communication”. Feliu-Mojer, however, went into greater detail rather than explaining the concept like a textbook definition. Rhonda Smith stated that scientific “dissemination is [a scientists] day job”, whereas Feliu-Mojer states that “science communication is a part of a scientist’s everyday life”. While these are quite contradicting each other, they are both right in my opinion.

Scientific dissemination is best described as the stereotypical view of a scientist. According to Rhonda Smith, “dissemination is about the production of papers that can be presented to peer review journals and ensuring that those are published”. These peer reviewed articles are what students like me use as research in other papers. Peer reviewed journals simply mean that one scientist’s paper is reviewed and looked over by other scientists in the same field. Both communication and dissemination are important. Dissemination is used for results, whereas communication is used to expand knowledge in the community. Scientists also need to communicate with the public for funding as well. Tax money is usually what funds researches. Therefore, to obtain more funding, the general population should know what is going on and will most likely be curious to know more.

Image result for funding for research Photo By Vincent Reillon

Simplifying a subject that is complicated originally is a tough goal to achieve. Everyone’s brain processes and works differently, thus possibly leading to an unclear form of communication between persons. However, this is a task that most, if not all scientists have to master in order to continue on and be successful in their research. Personally, learning effective science communication can only benefit me. Being social with individuals and/or a community about subjects that need to be taught is necessary to become a well-rounded scientist.

In another Youtube video by ANU TV called “Alan Alda: Science Communication”, Alan states that “everyone is too ignorant about science. That is what science is about: Science is about satisfying the ignorance we all naturally possess”. In my opinion, I think that Alda is trying to make the point that even though ignorance is in everyone, curiosity is also in everyone. People’s curiosity is what science is all about. Without it, science would have not been a concept. The ignorance of a scientist simply means that some lack the ability to correctly communicate subjects to the public. The ignorance of a general individual simply means that some lack the ability to understand a subject. Both types of people have to work together in order to understand concepts.

All in all, communicating in general is very important and beneficial. Without a way of communicating, knowledge could not easily be spread. Most scientists absolutely love what they are doing and cannot wait to share their research or experiment results with someone. Now, there are classes that students take simply to be better at communicating. Who doesn’t want to learn and discover the world and everything around us?

To everyone who has read this far, I highly recommend practicing this skill and trying to explain something your’e good at to someone else in a simple, but entertaining way. For example, if you’re good at skateboarding, try teaching someone to skateboard without using skateboarding terms. Bonus points if you teach them using references that they excel in! If you can master this skill about anything you talk about, you have mastered the practice of communicating. You would think that this is such an easy thing to do right? Surprise surprise. It is way harder than it looks.

Until next time!

Excited See Ya GIF by The Good Place Gif By The Good Place

-Louanne Maes