Winter has officially begun, but more than 40 species of plants and animals in the region are behaving as if it is spring. “Roses, camellias, spring bulbs and native peas are blooming, summer vegies are producing past season, fruit trees are confused and certain bird species are showing nesting behaviours,” said Lizette Salmon, spokesperson for Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH), referring to some of the unusual plant and animal behaviours that have been reported to the WATCH climate impacts database “Even those of us without green thumbs would have noticed grass everywhere is leaping out of the ground as if it is spring.”
Horticulturalist and Botanic Gardens ANZ Council member Paul Scannell has been in the gardening game for over 50 years and has noticed big changes due to climate change. “I’ve observed shifts in our weather patterns and the impact this is having on plants. Right now there are bottlebrushes and apple trees flowering when they shouldn’t and peaches and plums budding when normally they’d be dormant,” he said. “I’m concerned that if their buds burst early, they’ll be hit by the cold weather and those buds won’t produce fruit in summer.”
Albury’s April and May day-time temperatures were average for this time of the year, but night-time temperatures were two degrees higher than normal and the Border has yet to experience frosts. “For more than two weeks in May, Australia experienced a warm spell which broke temperature records in many places. Our weather was warmer than normal during that time too and many people felt it,” said Ms Salmon.
An analysis of heatwaves and warm spells between 1950 and 2011 by the University of NSW showed both are becoming longer, more frequent and more intense. However the changes were bigger and faster for winter warm spells and night-time temperatures. “Warm waves are not as widely appreciated as heat waves, partly because their impacts on humans, animals and infrastructure appear minimal. They feel quite pleasant and people may not even associate them with climate change,” said Ms Salmon. “Yet they, together with rising sea levels and mega fires are yet another example of what to expect as our planet continues to warm due to human activity. It is essential we take stronger action on climate change, such as rapidly transitioning to renewable energy, to try and avoid much worse impacts in future.”
Mr Scannell is also concerned about the warmer temperatures continuing into winter. “Some plant varieties need ‘chilling hours’ to function normally, ensuring they’ll germinate or produce fruit or seeds. Apples, blueberries, pears, cherries and plums are amongst the foods with threatened yields if we get further warming of winter weather.”
WATCH maintains a database of climate impacts, including impacts of heatwaves and warm spells as reported by citizen scientists, farmers and academics. People wishing to report observations are encouraged to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.