Sunday, November 4, 2012

Surviving in the heat of summer

Snails are dormant during the hot season
August was the fourth warmest since 1922. Both the average air temperature and the sea temperature were 2.3 °C above the norm.

Hot dry summers are typical of the Mediterranean region but the climate is not homogeneous throughout the region. 

The northern shores are cooler and wetter than the coast along the south and the east is much drier than the west.  As a rule of thumb botanist delineate the Mediterranean  as those areas where the olive tree can grow.

The Mediterranean region has a fairly rich biodiversity but living in the region is not easy for plants and animals unless they are adapted to live in the summer heat.

Plants need water and light to grow but in the Mediterranean the time of maximum light coincides with the driest months, thus plants cannot fully utilise the light for photosynthesis and growth.  Many plants survive by being annuals, drying up completely in the dry months and surviving until the next season as seeds. 

Others, although perennials, also dry up during the summer and remain alive as bulbs, corms or tubers. 

Other perennials reduce their activity to a bare minimum. Many of these, such as thyme,  are in the form of small bushes with small, dense leaves often with a waxy cover and aromatic leaves that help to reduce water loss.

Animals also find it difficult to survive the summer. Lack of vegetation makes it difficult for plant eaters to find food. Many die after laying eggs with the consequence that animals higher up in the food chain also find it difficult to eat. It is not only the lack of food that makes it difficult for animals to eat. The heat and lack of water increase their struggle. 

Malta’s only amphibian, the frog, and all land molluscs, including snails, aestivate in a safe place as they await  autumn’s first rains to become active again. (This article was published in The Times on 02.09.2012)

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