The health of our living planet depends on many tightly interconnected ecosystems and the organisms that live within them. When a plant produces leaves, or an animal gives birth, it not only fulfils a function within its own life cycle, but also impacts on the many plants, animals and people that depend on these seasonal resources. Phenology is the scientific study of these recurring biological events, all of which are highly sensitive to climate cues.
Climate change is already impacting our natural world
The world’s climate is rapidly changing with knock-on effects for the living processes of our natural world. Our recent publication shows that warming temperatures may have already reduced natural fruit production in Central Africa, even within a well-protected tropical forest. Changes in phenology have serious impacts for plants, animals, and humans and even the functioning of our living planet through feedbacks to the climate system.
Phenology monitoring has been described in the 4th IPCC Report as “perhaps the simplest process in which to track changes in the ecology of species in response to climate change” and proposed as a global Essential Biodiversity Variable, required to study, report and manage biodiversity change.
Why does Africa need a phenology network?
To successfully adapt to climate change, decision-makers in African nations need better information on natural and agricultural ecosystems and the ways that people depend on them. Phenology research in the northern hemisphere has been accelerated through tightly coordinated research networks (e.g., the USA National Phenology Network). These networks encourage standardised data collection, large-scale, long-term research and deliver real time forecasts to governments
In the almost continuous growing season of the tropics, phenology research often requires decades of monitoring to determine productivity cycles. By coordinating phenology research already underway across Africa we can fast-track our understanding of climate impacts on ecosystem processes, in a time frame where action may still be taken.