Global climate change and invariable photoperiods: A mismatch that jeopardizes animal fitness

William H. Walker, Olga Hecmarie Meléndez-Fernández, Randy J. Nelson, Russel J. Reiter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The Earth's surface temperature is rising, and precipitation patterns throughout the Earth are changing; the source of these shifts is likely anthropogenic in nature. Alterations in temperature and precipitation have obvious direct and indirect effects on both plants and animals. Notably, changes in temperature and precipitation alone can have both advantageous and detrimental consequences depending on the species. Typically, production of offspring is timed to coincide with optimal food availability; thus, individuals of many species display annual rhythms of reproductive function. Because it requires substantial time to establish or re-establish reproductive function, individuals cannot depend on the arrival of seasonal food availability to begin breeding; thus, mechanisms have evolved in many plants and animals to monitor and respond to day length in order to anticipate seasonal changes in the environment. Over evolutionary time, there has been precise fine-tuning of critical photoperiod and onset/offset of seasonal adaptations. Climate change has provoked changes in the availability of insects and plants which shifts the timing of optimal reproduction. However, adaptations to the stable photoperiod may be insufficiently plastic to allow a shift in the seasonal timing of bird and mammal breeding. Coupled with the effects of light pollution which prevents these species from determining day length, climate change presents extreme evolutionary pressure that can result in severe deleterious consequences for individual species reproduction and survival. This review describes the effects of climate change on plants and animals, defines photoperiod and the physiological events it regulates, and addresses the consequences of global climate change and a stable photoperiod.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10044-10054
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • circadian rhythms
  • climate change
  • light at night
  • photoperiod
  • reproduction
  • survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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