Unseasonal Weather Triggers Unseasonal Activities in Ohio

For those of you reading in Ohio and a good portion of the Midwest, you know that this has been one strange winter. While the average temperature this time of year (historically) is 40.8⁰F, we've recently traded our winter coats and gloves for light layers and even short-sleeved shirts, with temperatures in the mid-high 60's! This stretch of warm weather has many of us feeling like spring has sprung in February instead of April. And we're not the only ones confused by this warm spell. Several spring ephemeral species, such as Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), False Mermaid Weed (Floerkea proserpinacoides), and Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa), have started pushing through the leaf litter. These plants typically don't emerge until late-March and begin blooming in April, when ambient temperatures exceed 50⁰F. This is timed so that native pollinators will be out looking for pollen and nectar when the blooms appear. The potential temporal disconnect between pollen-producers and their pollinators is one concern that ecologists have regarding our changing climate.

Harbinger-of-Spring and Spring Beauty starts photographed in Hamilton County by Daniel Boone on February 11, 2017. Daniel reported seeing Spring Beauty in bloom February 23, 2017.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in bloom. Photographed by Jenny Adkins in a Crawford County vernal pool on February 22, 2017.

In addition to early-sprouting plants, many amphibian species have been spotted on their annual migrations towards vernal pools and wetlands throughout the state and region. MAD Scientist Associates field teams have observed Jefferson Salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), Northern Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus), Redback Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvatica), Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer crucifer), and Western Chorus Frogs (Pseuadcris triseriata). Many of these species have been known to emerge from their subterranean burrows and begin their journey to a breeding pool by late-February, however, they're used to much cooler temperatures during this mating trek.

Western Chorus Frog (likely a male), retrieved from a Crawford County vernal pool by Mark Dilley, February 22, 2017. These frogs often call in tandem with Spring Peepers and even look similar. They can be distinguished by the dark band extending from their nose to their abdomen.

Red eft, the terrestrial juvenile form of the Red-Spotted Newt, photographed by Aaron Laver in Vinton County, February 23, 2017.

Two varieties of the lungless Redback Salamander. On the left is the red-striped phase, and the right, the leadback phase. Both found near a Crawford County vernal pool by Daniel DeBruler, February 22, 2017.

One of many Jefferson Salamanders (this one is a male), photographed by Aaron Laver near a Vinton County vernal pool on January 19, 2017.

Year to date weather records for Columbus, Ohio, from NOAA.

Research is unclear on the effects of mild winters regarding reproductive success and mortality of adult and larval amphibians. One study found that mild winters had positive effects on hibernating adults, such as limited change in body mass (Üveges et. al., 2016). Other studies suggest that adequate precipitation is a more important factor in survivorship than temperatures (Ficetola and Maiorano, 2016). Based on the year to date information collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for Columbus, Ohio, we are unseasonably warm, but right on point with expected precipitation. Hopefully we continue to see rain accompanying these temperatures for the sake of our native amphibians venturing out for early spring activities!

 

References:

Ficetola, G.F. & Maiorano, L. (2016) Contrasting effects of temperature and precipitation change on amphibian phenology, abundance and performance. Oecologia. 181: 683. doi:10.1007/s00442-016-3610-9

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2017, February 24, 2017) Year to date graph for Columbus, Ohio. Retrieved from: http://www.weather.gov/iln/climate_info

Üveges, B., Mahr, K., Szederkényi, M., Bókony, V., Hoi, H., & Hettyey, A. (2016). Experimental evidence for beneficial effects of projected climate change on hibernating amphibians. Scientific Reports6, 26754. http://doi.org/10.1038/srep26754

-- Jenny Adkins, Botany Specialist