UWM conference explores effect of climate change on seasonal cycles of plants and animals

MILWAUKEE – The problem with having a very early spring, like the one that occurred in Wisconsin this year, is that temperatures often vacillate, leading to frost damage in crops.

With climate change, says a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), that scenario will likely become more common. It is one of the many topics that will be discussed Sept. 10-13 at an international conference on phenology, the study of the life cycle events of plants and animals, hosted by UWM.

“Phenology 2012: Future Climate and the Living Earth” will bring together more than 130 experts in all subfields of the discipline at the downtown Conference Center of the UWM School of Continuing Education, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 6000.

Irregular temperatures can wreak havoc on animals and plants which take their cues from climate to set “internal clocks” that regulate dormancy, reproduction and other seasonal phenomena.

Phenology provides an easily measured way to quickly assess changes to ecosystems, says Mark Schwartz, Distinguished Professor of Geography and one of the conference presenters.

“We don’t even fully understand the climate/plant development relationship in the current climate, and now it is changing for both natural and agricultural systems,” says Schwartz, who is co-founder and chair of the USA National Phenology Network. “We have to start thinking about adaptation to the coming changes.”

The conference features two plenary speakers who were recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with Al Gore for laying the foundation for measures that are needed to counteract manmade climate change. Thomas Karl and Steven Running are scientists who were serving on the board of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) when members of the entire agency shared the prize with Gore.

Thomas Karl
Karl is director of the National Climatic Data Center and chair of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. He will speak about decadal changes and variations of 14 distinct types of extreme weather events. The information was compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2011 after a series of assessments.

Steven W. Running
Running is the Regents Professor of forest ecology at the University of Montana and a recognized expert on global ecosystem monitoring. Running’s 2007 essay, “The 5 Stages of Climate Grief,” has been widely quoted. His talk will focus on how plant phenology science has evolved from simple first-bud observation that anyone can record to high-tech satellite monitoring of seasonal ecosystem dynamics across regions and continents.

For more information go to http://www.phenology2012.uwm.edu.


(CONTACTS: Mark Schwartz, 414-229-3740 or mds@uwm.edu; Thomas Karl, Thomas.R.Karl@noaa.gov; or Steven Running, swr@ntsg.umt.edu. For a list of other experts on phenology and climate who are presenting at the conference, contact Laura L. Hunt, 414-229-6444, llhunt@uwm.edu.)