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Big Warming Trend... "Earth Gauge": Love in the Air, Dwindling Monarch Migration

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Updated: 2/14 10:42 pm
The weather pattern over the Lower 48 will "buckle" next week helping to cause an overhaul in the recent weather set-up.  In general, the upper level trough of low pressure that's been persistent over or near the Eastern U.S. the last 4-5 weeks will shift to the west.  There will still, however, be plenty of storminess (that can be played up as "unusual, extreme, terrible, worst ever" when, in fact, it's nothing unusual as we head toward early spring). The upshot is a big warming trend for much of the Eastern U.S. including the First Coast.  Check out the forecast highs for the week ahead.  One caveat: sky rocketing pine pollen.  If you have spring pollen allergies, the yellow/green dust will be very noticeable & most uncomfortable over the next 4 weeks or so.

Earth Gauge: Strange Love is in the Air

Wooing, romantic dinners, flowers and chocolates…Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Out in the wild, animals do it a little differently. They may not celebrate Valentine’s Day, but they will still go to extreme measures to impress a mate just as humans do. When it comes to gift giving, dressing up and showing off dance moves, courtship takes on a whole new meaning in the animal kingdom.

Tip: From sprucing up bachelor pads to using built-in fishing rods and nasal balloons, check out some of these strange mating rituals.

Prairie Chicken: In March, prairie chickens, found in the mid-western United States, begin their fighting, singing and dancing mating ritual. Male prairie chickens give out a “booming” call by breathing air into orange air sacs along their neck. During the “boom” calls, they shuffle and tap their feet on the ground performing a dance. The most impressive male gets the female. Check out the prairie chicken in action.

·         Curcurbit Beetle: This insect, along with a few others, changes mating habits based on air pressure. In nature, the female beetles stay put and give off a pheromone that attracts males. When air pressure is dropping, male beetles are less likely to search for females based on their pheromones. The male beetles may respond to changes in the weather to prevent injury or death when lower air pressure indicates a storm is approaching.

·         Bowerbird: Male bowerbirds – found in the tropical regions of Australia and New Guinea – attract females with blue trinkets. They gather blue objects, such as plastic rings, berries and flowers, as well as bottle caps and string, and place them in their bowers. Bowers are U-shaped platforms built from twigs and grass. Check out a bowerbird gathering up blue objects.

·         Anglerfish: Over years of evolution, female anglerfish grew much larger than males. Females have a unique built-in fishing rod that protrudes off the top of the front of their heads. Because they are smaller, male anglerfish have a harder time getting food. So, males attach themselves to the rod for easy access to food and in a sense become parasites. Eventually, the males cannot detach themselves, so they stay along for the ride until the female is ready to mate. Talk about attraction…or should we say attachment?

·         Hooded Seal: Hooded seals, which are distributed mostly in the northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean, determine mates based off of nasal balloons. Male hooded seals blow up their nasal balloons like bubble gum and then show them off to scare away other males and attract females. Check out the performance.

(Sources: Mother Nature Network, “9 of the most bizarre animal mating habits,”; National Geographic, “Wild Romance: Weird Animal Courtship and Mating Rituals,”; National Geographic, “Bowerbirds Dance, Decorate to Suit Females’ Changing Tastes,”; Arkive, “Hooded Seal,”; National Geographic, “Ground Birds: World’s Weirdest: Bowerbird Woos Female With Ring,”; Missouri Department of Conservation, “Prairie Chicken [video],”; Arkive, “Greater prairie chicken,”; The Weather Channel, “Insects Sense Weather, Adjust Mating Behavior, Study Says,”)

Climate Change and Animal Mating Patterns

Many animals synchronize life-cycle events such as migration and mating with climatic seasons. But changes in temperature and precipitation can lead to mismatches in the timing of migration and hibernation, changes in species distribution, and can support the spread of diseases. Climate variation and change can also impact mating patterns in some surprising ways.

Drier mating seasons give subordinate male gray seals a chance. Gray seals breed annually, live in colonies and are polygynous, meaning that one dominant male mates with many females. Males compete with each other to establish mating rights. Females move within the colony to find preferred pupping sites with small pools of water, used to regulate body temperature. Scientists studying a gray seal colony in North Rona, Scotland found that in drier seasons females increased their mobility within the colony. Drier seasons tend to have fewer water pools and females with pups are forced to commute relatively long distances between the location of their pup and the available pools. The increase in female mobility reduces the dominant male’s ability to monopolize females and allows subordinate males to mate. The opposite was observed in seasons with more rainfall. Twenty-three (23) males mated in the wettest year, whereas 37 mated in the driest year, meaning that a greater number of individuals will pass their genes to the next generation when there is variation in climatic conditions.

Male green turtles change their mating patterns in populations where more females are born. A green turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature experienced while the embryo is developing. All marine turtles produce female offspring at higher temperatures, males at lower temperatures, and 50 percent of either sex at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists have expressed concern because warmer temperatures due to climate change have led to more females being born, which could lead to inbreeding. However, a study conducted with green turtles in Cyprus left scientists pleasantly surprised. In a population where high temperatures led to 95 percent of babies being born female, males changed their mating patterns to compensate. Researchers thought that one single male might be breeding with multiple females, but through paternity testing they found that 28 males sired offspring with 20 nesting females. This means that each female’s offspring were sired by one or more fathers. Results indicated that in addition to mating more frequently, males could also be visiting multiple breeding grounds. This suggests that male mating patterns have the potential to buffer skewed sex ratios due to a warmer climate.

Birds living in unstable climates are more likely to cheat. But avian cheaters have good intentions – by mating with multiple partners, female birds can improve their offspring’s ability to cope with variable future weather conditions. Studies have shown that chicks born from cheating have higher survival rates, grow better feathers, build stronger immune systems and have more reproductive success than chicks born from long-term partners.  Scientists found this link between cheating birds and weather conditions by comparing the mating behaviors of more than 200 bird species to local weather records. They discovered that birds became more promiscuous in environments that exhibit larger and more volatile temperature swings each year.

(Source: Wright, L.I., K.L. Stokes, W.J. Fuller, B.J. Godley, A. McGowan, R. Snape, T. Tregenza and A.C. Broderick. 2012. Turtle Mating Patterns Buffer against Disruptive Effects of Climate Change. Proceedings of the Royal Society 279:2122-2127. and Twiss, S.D., C. Thomas, V. Poland, J.A. Graves, P. Pomeroy. 2007. The Impact of Climatic Variation on the Opportunity for Sexual Selection. Biology Letters 3:12-15 and Environmental Protection Agency. Ecosystems. Accessed online 6 February, 2014; Botero, Carlos A. and Dustin R. Rubenstein, 2012. “Fluctuating Environments, Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Flexible Mate Choice in Birds.”  PLoS ONE, 7:1, e32311, (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032311); Diffenbaugh, Noah S. and Moetasim Ashfaq, 2010. “Intensification of hot extremes in the United States.”  Geophysical Research Letters, 37, L15701, (DOI: 10.1029/2010GL043888))

Climate in the News: “Migration of Monarch Butterflies Shrinks Again Under Inhospitable Conditions” The New York Times, January 29, 2014Faltering under extreme weather and vanishing habitats, the yearly winter migration of monarch butterflies to a handful of forested Mexican mountains dwindled precipitously in December, continuing what scientists said was an increasingly alarming decline.

Have a great & safe weekend!

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