Ecologists have said that the Tour of Flanders provides evidence of how climate change is affecting the natural world.
Researchers at Ghent University studied TV footage of the race, normally held at the start of April from the past four decades, The Ecologist reports.
Despite some tweaks over the years, over that period the race has taken in much of the same course and climbs.
What they found was that between 1981 and 2016, trend was that leaves were appearing on trees and flowers were blooming earlier in the year.
Their findings are published today in the journal, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, with researchers correlating the appearance of leaves and flowers on the course with data relating to climate
Prior to 1990, there were virtually no leaves to be seen on the trees lining the course, but gradually over the decades they can increasingly be seen in the TV footage.
Some species, and especially magnolia, hawthorn, hornbeam and birch trees, were observed to be already in full leaf,
According to the study, since 1980 average temperatures in Flanders have risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Professor Pieter De Frenne said: “Early-leafing trees can be good news for some species as they grow faster and produce more wood.
“However, their leaves also cast shadows. When trees flush earlier in the year, they shadow for a longer period of time, affecting other animals and plants, and even whole ecosystems.
“Some of the flowers growing under these trees may not be able to receive enough sunlight to bloom.
“As a result, insects can go without nectar and may struggle to find enough spots to sunbathe.”,
He added: “Our method could also be used to collect data on other aspects important for ecological or evolutionary research, such as tree health, water levels in rivers and lakes, and the spread of invasive species.
“Only by compiling data from the past will we be able to predict the future effects of climate change on species and ecosystems.”
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