The glacier lily as it's called, is a tall, willowy plant that graces mountain meadows throughout western North America. It flowers early in spring, when the first bumblebees and hummingbirds appear.
Glacier lilies flower within days of snowmelt and are an important nectar resource. Credit: David Inouye
This is a male broad-tailed hummingbird, with the yellow pollen on its bill likely from a glacier lily. Credit: David Inouye
The lily, a plant that grows best on subalpine slopes, is fast becoming a hothouse flower. In Earth's warming temperatures, its first blooms appear some 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970s, scientists David Inouye and Amy McKinney of the University of Maryland and colleagues have found.
The problem, say the biologists, with the earlier timing of these first blooms is that the glacier lily is no longer synchronized with the arrival of broad-tailed hummingbirds, which depend on glacier lilies for nectar.
By the time the hummingbirds fly in, many of the flowers have withered away, their nectar-laden blooms going with them.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds migrate north from Central America every spring to high-mountain breeding sites in the western United States. The birds have only a short mountain summer to raise their young. Male hummingbirds scout for territories before the first flowers bloom.
But the time between the first hummingbird and the first bloom has collapsed by 13 days over the past four decades, say Inouye and McKinney. "In some years," says McKinney, "the lilies have already bloomed by the time the first hummingbird lands."
The biologists calculate that if current trends continue, in two decades the hummingbirds will miss the first flowers entirely.
The results are reported in a paper in the current issue of the journal Ecology. In addition to McKinney and Inouye, co-authors of the paper are Paul CaraDonna of the University of Arizona; Billy Barr of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte, Colo.; David Bertelsen of the University of Arizona; and Nickolas Waser, affiliated with all three institutions.
"Northern species, such as the broad-tailed hummingbird, are most at risk of arriving at their breeding sites after their key food resources are no longer available, yet ecologists predict that species will move northward as climate warms," says Saran Twombly, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.
"These conflicting pressures challenge society to ensure that species don't soon find themselves without a suitable place to live."
Broad-tailed hummingbirds that breed farther south have fewer challenges.
"In Arizona, for example," says Inouye, "there's no obvious narrowing of the timing between the first arriving males and the first blooms of, in this case, the nectar-containing Indian paintbrush."
Higher latitudes may be more likely to get out of sync ecologically because global warming is happening fastest there.
As the snow continues to melt earlier in the spring, bringing earlier flowering, says Inouye, the mountains may come alive with glacier lilies long before hummingbirds can complete their journey north.
"Where have all the flowers gone?" then will be "where have all the hummingbirds gone?"
Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Molecular libraries for organic light-emitting diodes
24.04.2017 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
24.04.2017 | Life Sciences
24.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
24.04.2017 | Machine Engineering