What is Ecological Mismatch?

What is Ecological Mismatch?

We recently Tweeted about the increasing risk of ecological mismatch. This was due to a recent report detailing how plants in the UK are flowering a month earlier on average. However, upon further research, it’s clear there’s not a lot of public information about what ecological mismatch is and ultimately, why it’s something to be concerned about. Therefore, we wanted to create a starting point for those looking to learn about ecological mismatch. The following article will look to answer all your questions. It begins with what is ecological mismatch?

What is Ecological Mismatch?

While the term ‘ecological mismatch’ may sound confusing it’s actually quite simple. At it’s most basic level, ecological mismatch is where different aspects of the natural world become out of sync.

It’s well known that all systems within the natural world are interconnected and linked. What’s lesser appreciated is that many of these connections have evolved to occur at specific times that are most beneficial to each species to survive and reproduce.

If these systems become unsynchronised then ecological mismatch would occur as the timings would be out and species will face dire consequences.

Ecological Match vs Ecological Mismatch
A simple graph depiction of ecological match and ecological mismatch. When nature is in sync all processes can function however, when it’s out of sync problems will occur for the species involved.

Why is Ecological Mismatch Something to be Concerned About?

For a long time, the idea of ecological mismatch was theoretical. However, due to the climate crisis, natural systems all around the world are changing at unprecedented speeds raising the real fear that ecological mismatch could already be happening!

This is concerning because of the impacts it would have. Species being out of synch with each other would result in chaos for all natural systems.

Plants, including food crops, may not be pollinated at the right times, migratory animals may move too early or too late and reproduction may happen too early or too late.

A further issue comes from the knock-on effect of this. While at this early stage, ecological mismatch may be occurring for just a few species. We know that all species play an important role in the natural system. If one bird migrates late, this impacts both prey and predator species in the location it is supposed to be migrating to, and so on.

Examples of Ecological Mismatch

There are many possible examples to ecological mismatch. We’ve highlighted just three below to help demonstrate the concept.

Migratory Birds

Migratory birds migrate to survive. They do this for many reasons such as to find safe nesting sites and to access available food. For example, in the UK many insect-eating birds migrate to warmer locations over winter so they can still find insects to eat. However, the impacts of climate change, which has led to quick-changing and sporadic temperature and weather changes can severely harm migrating birds.

For example, warm spring temperatures are occurring more earlier than usual and not all migratory birds are adapting to arrive in time. This can cause the natural system to become unbalanced in early Spring. Insect populations can grow undeterred which can have a knock on impact on plants and crops.

Migratory osprey flying with fish
Ospreys are a migratory bird that could be negatively impacted by ecological mismatch.

Flowering Plants and Pollinators

It was recently reported that plants in the UK are flowering a month earlier than usual. This can have a serious impact on things like pollination, fruiting and seed production.

Furthermore, earlier warmer temperatures doesn’t mean that all the cold temperatures have passed. Frost will destroy any flowering plants that have flowered too early, thus, dramatically reducing the number of flowering plants available for pollinators when they do arrive.

A bee pollinating on pink and white flowers
Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and birds will suffer from an out of sync ecosystem.

Animal Reproduction

Similar to plants flowering earlier than usual, in warmer temperatures animals could begin to reproduce earlier. However, this could mean young animals would have to then survive a turn in bad weather and the possibility of a lack of available foods if other species in the ecosystem are slower or quicker to change.

This would then have a knock on impact on other species and the food industry. In the context of ongoing food shortages this will only add to the stress on natural systems.

Lamb and Sheep in a field of hay
If animals reproduce earlier then any offspring may have less chance of survival.

Ecological Mismatch – A Conclusion

It’s clear that ecological mismatch should be a concern for us all. If the natural system continues to become out of sync then the results would be catastrophic for all species, including humans.

The current root cause of the crisis is climate change as this is directly impacting temperatures and weather patterns worldwide. It’s likely that such varying temperatures will continue as the world continues to mistreat the planet. Therefore, it’s imperative that we collectively do what we can do mitigate, adapt and reverse the impacts of climate change.

Did you already know about ecological mismatch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Also, please consider supporting CHEC by donating or subscribing to our newsletter!

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