drought

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This summer’s heatwave has us all wondering how to stay cool, but animals are facing the same issues as humans with fewer means of coping. Professor Tom Oliver is Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of Reading UK, and his research focuses on understanding the causes of changes to biodiversity to support environmental decision-making. Here he looks at the potentially worrying impact the drought conditions could have on wildlife in the UK.

Marbled white butterfly with butterfly recorder in background. Long-term monitoring schemes give us invaluable information on how species have responded to past drought events.

With widespread reports of intense heatwaves and drought across the Northern hemisphere this summer, combined with our own personal observations of how everything is starting to look very parched, it is natural to wonder how drought is affecting our wildlife.

When the temperature heats up, we humans can take measures to reduce our exposure, such as heading down the shops to buy a fan, or even installing air conditioning. Yet, our wildlife has much less opportunity for such ‘learned’ adaptation to climate change.

That said, there are innate behaviours that can help wildlife to cope; for example many insects regulate their body temperatures by moving to cooler, moister habitats (e.g deep woodland or shady streams and ponds) when things get too hot. The food sources of these insects are also more likely to persist in such areas. So the existence of such ‘refuge’ habitats can be crucial in allowing species to persist under intense heat and drought events.

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Anxious about the fate of your dahlias and tomatoes in the warm weather? Dr Alastair Culham from the School of Biological Sciences explains the best time of day to water your garden in a new post for The Conversation.

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By Professor Donal O’Sullivan, Professor of Crop Science in the School of Agriculture, University of Reading

Unfavourable weather patterns and their impact on crop production have again been a major talking point in farming circles. Bizarrely, whilst the total amount of rainfall in 2017 to date is very close to the historic average, it has been distributed in a very unhelpful way (as data from the University’s Meteorology Department weather station helpfully plotted out in an up-to-the-minute annual graph shows).

Weather data from the University of Reading shows the drought in April and summer deluge

First and foremost, there was almost no meaningful rainfall for a six-week period spanning the calendar month of April, when crops were going through their most rapid phase of growth. But to compound matters, there was an unusual deluge in the second half of July, when dry conditions would have been more conducive to straightforward ripening and harvest.

Assessing the impact of this latest extreme weather episode was the subject of a BBC South Today news piece I contributed to on Tuesday evening. The research team I am leading in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development may have some answers. We designed a large field experiment designed both to quantify yield losses due to drought and to detect varieties with drought-beating characteristics.

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By Rebecca Emerton, Water@Reading research group

When an El Niño is declared, or even forecast, we think back to memorable past El Niños (such as 1997/98), and begin to ask whether we will see the same impacts. Will California receive a lot of rainfall? Will we see droughts in tropical Asia and Australia? Will Peru experience the same devastating floods as in 1997/98, and 1982/83?

El Niño and La Niña, which see changes in the ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, are well known to affect weather, and indeed river flow and flooding, around the globe. But how well can we estimate the potential impacts of El Niño and La Niña, and how likely flooding is to occur?

This question is what some of us in the Water@Reading research group at the University of Reading have been looking to answer in our recent publication in Nature Communications.

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