News - January 14, 2016

No winter? No problem

If we don’t get a real winter at all this year, is that a bad thing? No, says biologist Arnold van Vliet. Nature will go on, it will just be different. How it will differ we don’t know yet.

January 2016: Flowering daffodils in Ede and hawthorn in the Droevendaalsesteeg. Photos Arnold van Vliet

Van Vliet has just come back from a trip to the Stadspoort on the edge of Ede. To film daffodils in bloom. These are exciting times for a biologist who has made ecological change his core business. ‘No experiment can beat this.’ But Van Vliet doesn’t worry about the lack of a winter this year. ‘Nature will just go on, even if we don’t get any winter weather at all. But of course you will see a change in the dynamics.’

Bladontplooiing meidoorn Droevendaalsesteeg.jpg

Floron ran the ‘Plantenjacht’ for the second time this winter: an inventory of flowering plants. Van Vliet did something similar back in 2006. ‘Then we found more than 240 flowering wild species.’ This time Floron has counted 735 species. These early bloomers will give up the ghost if winter weather sets in after all. Is that a bad thing? ‘We don’t know yet what effects it will have,’ replies Van Vliet. ‘It is not that all specimens of those species are flowering in all locations. Only the very early plants of the population are already flowering. In any case climate change has led to a shift in distribution zones. More than 100 hundred new plant species have started growing in the Netherlands in the last two decades.’

Van Vliet sees it all as one big experiment, which we should make the most of for the time being. ‘No frost in December is spectacular from the meteorological point of view. We have never had the chance to study this in our country before. And it is not only of interest to phenologists. For people working on climate adaption, for instance, it is a chance in a lifetime. Actually it is a glimpse of the future.’

So don’t come to Van Vliet with the cliché that nature is confused. ‘Nature is not confused, if that was even possible. Plans just do what they have to do if it is as warm as it is now.’