A recent research paper entitled Phenological advance in the South African Namaqualand Daisy First and Peak Bloom: 1935–2018Pascal Snyman, Jennifer Fitchett and climate data for Namaqua spanning 59 year used documented phenological data that spans 83 years to determine the phenological impacts of climate change on Namaqualand’s daisies.
Simply put, phenology is the study of the timing and effects of biological events. For example, seasonal changes can affect when flowers bloom and when they go dormant. Snyman & Fitchett discovered that climate change was altering Namaqualand’s seasonal cycle.
These wildflowers experience their first flowering 2.6 days sooner every decade and full bloom 2.1 day earlier every decade. Although this may not cause alarm for the average person, who may consider it a good thing that daisies bloom earlier than usual, the short-term as well as long-term effects of this should not be underestimated.
Daily MaverickFitchett was our contact, and he explained two main reasons why this climatic phenomenon could lead to the loss of daisies.
First, warmer weather shortens the dormant period of daisies, which is typically in the winter. This dormant period is essential for “the storing and accumulation of energy for the next reproductive season”, according to Fitchett.
“The earlier the flowering date, the shorter the dormant phase, and therefore the shorter the time period for this time for plants to, in a sense, rest and recover,” she added.
The second reason is a “Catch-22”. Despite warmer winter climates due to climate change, Western Cape and Northern Cape, where the Namaqualand daisy is endemic, experience “mid-latitude cyclones” which can trigger “frost events”, regardless of the warmer temperatures.
“If a frost event occurs during the flowering stage, it is likely to weaken or destroy the flowers — shortening the flowering season — and prevent successful seeding, which then affects the next year’s daisies,” said Fitchett.
In theory, the daisies could be agriculturally salvaged by growing them in greenhouses, “but that takes away the spectacle of the Namaqualand daisies”.
Additionally, and even more urgently, such a measure could negatively impact tourism. “So we could keep the species from going extinct, but wouldn’t save the tourism attraction,” said Fitchett.
Their 2007 paper, titled The Namaqua National Park’s flower tourism: economic and environmental benefits, Ivor James, Michael Timm Hoffman, Alistair Munro, Patrick O’Farrell and Russel Smart suggested wildflower blooms in the region attract roughly 10,000 tourists per season.
Tourists could not plan viewing trips if there was a decrease in daisy population and seasonal shifts.
Determining when these climatic effects will become irreversible is impossible at the moment, but Fitchett suggests it is a matter of “tipping points”.
“A few years of failed blooms could cause irreversible damage if no seeding occurs, but it is difficult to predict when that would occur,” she explained.
One thing is certain: Wildflower areas will suffer from a loss of biodiversity. Namaqualand daisies cannot be found anywhere else, so other wildlife in these areas may also experience shifts and decline.
“They provide habitat and food for insects and birds, and thus form part of an ecosystem,” said Fitchett. “So any loss of species richness is a loss for biodiversity, but also a threat to the rest of the food chain.”
The point at which irreversibility cannot be reached is still not yet.
Snyman & Fitchett argue in their paper that South Africa needs to increase phenological inquiry as well as data-driven research in order to combat the problem.
Fitchett used a similar approach to highlight the effect of global heating on the environment. Pretoria and Johannesburg: Jacaranda blooms
Fitchett argued for “a strong focus on a just transition” in terms of energy resources. “We need to urgently move away from coal and towards renewables.” DM