A Story of Local weather Science Oddities • Are you accomplished with that?

In the great halls of climate change research, where heroic scientists tirelessly study hypothetical modeled dangers of rising sea levels, disappearing ice caps, and extreme weather events, we now find a new advocate. A bird. Not just any bird, mind you, but the humble turkey—yes, the bird that graced our tables on Thanksgiving and commanded Benjamin Franklin’s respect.

In a not-so-intriguing new study from North Carolina State University, researchers have expressed concern that climate change could pose a threat to turkey reproduction, largely because turkeys may not alter their nest-building timing to adapt to climate changes to adjust. In other words, they fear that while the earth may be warming, turkeys remain cool and consistently on their breeding dates.

So the research team launched an eight-year study that involved capturing female turkeys, attaching GPS tags, monitoring the turkeys remotely, and correlating that turkey data with weather data.

And what was the significant conclusion of this study? They found that changes in temperature and precipitation caused turkeys to slightly alter their breeding seasons. However, these changes were measurable in hours, not days. In two climate change scenarios, the timing of successful nests would shift by less than three hours. Basically, the turkeys just hit the snooze button on their biological clock.

This whole “phenological mismatch” idea, where turkeys’ reproductive cycles are mismatched with food and cover resources, is also a bit outlandish.

Turkeys are an extremely adaptable species. They have survived and are close to extinction due to overhunting and habitat loss. We have them all over North America. This resilience should earn them some respect, perhaps even confidence, in their ability to adapt to a hypothetically warmer climate, given the already wide variety of climates in which they survive, rather than face potential demise due to a few hours’ lag to leave in the breeding season.

This study is a prime example of researchers getting lost in the weeds. Instead of focusing on key, impactful environmental realities, we’ve spent eight years tracking turkeys and worrying about their breeding seasons. And while every aspect of our ecosystem is essential, there may be more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

In any case, rest easy, folks. Climate change or not, our Thanksgiving dinners seem safe. If only we could find a way to get turkeys to adjust to a lifestyle that means less of it ending up on the plate.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecochg.2023.100075

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