Shifting Ecological Timing in the Global South: Addressing research inequalities through south-south alliances

Michelle Bastian, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Climate change has shifted the timing of seasonal patterns across the globe, affecting the timing of key life stages of plants and animals through rising temperatures, changes in precipitation and disturbed weather patterns (Piao et al 2019). This has led to a need for adaptation in commercial and subsistence agriculture, as well as concerns that species could become dangerously out of synch with their pollinators, food sources, and ideal weather conditions. Indeed the IPCC has recognised phenology – the scientific study of life-cycle timing – as a key climate change indicator that ties together the climate and biodiversity crises (Hoegh-Guldberg, in press). Despite phenology’s increasing importance to climate change science, to date there has been very little engagement from the arts and humanities, where understandings of the temporality of current global changes has been largely through geological concepts such as deep time and the Anthropocene. In contrast, this project will build on Bastian’s emerging research on environmental humanities approaches to phenology (eg Bastian and Hawitt 2022), with a focus on temporal transitions of ecosystems in the Global South.

While ecological timing is shifting world-wide, southern hemispheric regions are likely to experience more extreme changes (eg Parmesan 2006). This will have greater impacts on local populations who will have to adjust more dramatically to phenological change, and who are also more dependent upon subsistence farming and local provisioning (eg Fitchett et al. 2015). At the same time, phenological research in the tropics and southern regions is significantly underfunded, and there are much fewer long-term databases necessary for identifying and predicting change. There are also distinctive ecosystem and weather dynamics which require different concepts and methods from those used in dominant northern-hemisphere approaches (Staggemeier et al 2020). As a result, South-South alliances are focused on developing new research avenues and capacity building, in order to address inequalities in phenological research and the disproportionate impact this will have on the Global South. This includes the recently formed African Phenology Network, and a collaborative group of scientists across Brazil, South Africa and Australia who will both be project partners.

Using an approach successfully piloted by Bastian (AH/J006629/1), the activities for this strand have been co-created with the partners and will meet diverse needs concurrently. The focus will be on centring the Jacaranda, a spectacular flowering tree widespread across the southern hemisphere, as a key indicator species, following the use of the lilac some decades ago in the northern hemisphere. In both cases, the plants are reliable indicators of fluctuations in seasonal temperatures enabling predications of changes to wider agricultural and ecosystem plant timings, but are also common, easily identified and joyously commented on by the public, historically and across social and traditional media today. Via the activities described below, we will produce: scientific data through historical and design methods; material to facilitate time-focused design activities that will raise public awareness (Pschetz and Bastian 2018); policy-focused interventions via the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and ClimateWatch; capacity building for network participants, including policy engagement training; and opportunities for participation, conceptual development and discussion enabling Bastian to engage in a ‘field philosophy’ (Bastian 2018) of southern hemisphere phenology in transition.

References Cited

Bastian, M. (2018) Philosophy Disturbed: reflections on moving between field and philosophy, Parallax, 24:4, 449-465, DOI: 10.1080/13534645.2018.1546723

Bastian, M. and Bayliss Hawitt, R., 2022. Multi-species, ecological and climate change temporalities: Opening a dialogue with phenology. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, early view 25148486221111784.

Fitchett, J. M., Grab, S. W., & Thompson, D. I. (2015). Plant phenology and climate change: Progress in methodological approaches and application. Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment, 39(4), 460–482.

Hoegh-Guldberg O, Jacob D, Taylor M, et al. (In Press) “2018: Impacts of 1.5ºC Global Warming on Natural and Human Systems”. In: Masson-Delmotte V, Zhai P, Pörtner H-O, et al. (eds) Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. 175-311.

Parmesan C. (2006) Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 37: 637-669.

Pschetz, Larissa, and Michelle Bastian. "Temporal Design: Rethinking time in design." Design Studies 56 (2018): 169-184.

Piao, S., Liu, Q., Chen, A., Janssens, I.A., Fu, Y., Dai, J., Liu, L., Lian, X.U., Shen, M. and Zhu, X., 2019. Plant phenology and global climate change: Current progresses and challenges. Global change biology, 25(6), pp.1922-1940.

Staggemeier, VG, Gutierrez Camargo, MGG, Diniz-Filho, JAF, Freckleton, R, Jardim, L, Morellato, LPC. The circular nature of recurrent life cycle events: a test comparing tropical and temperate phenology. J Ecol. 2020; 108: 393– 404.

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