The shifting climate is altering the distribution of various species, and in Poland, researchers observe the return of the protected water chestnut plant. While this may initially seem like positive news, scientists are cautious about the implications.
Native Species Resurgence
Native species’ rapid expansion is poorly understood compared to invasive species. Researchers from the Institute of Nature Conservation at the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) focus on the water chestnut (Trapa natans), a native species whose quick spread raises ecological questions.
Water Chestnut Background
Though native and edible, water chestnuts are considered invasive in North America and Australia. Its presence in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa is historically natural, with a northern range limited by water temperatures exceeding 22 degrees Celsius for at least two months annually.
Protected Status and Concerns
While water chestnuts are strictly protected in Europe, including Poland, their resurgence prompts concerns. The plant, once considered extinct in Lithuania and Spain, is thriving in historical habitats, challenging its protected status.
Citizen Science Contribution
Current data on water chestnut presence is a result of citizen science efforts. The active map encourages citizens to report sightings, aiding ongoing research. The researchers urge continued public involvement to monitor the plant’s expansion.
Climate Change Influence
Analyses attribute the water chestnut’s rapid spread in Poland to climate change. Statistical models highlight temperature and precipitation as key climate variables influencing its habitat suitability. Projections indicate the potential colonization of the entire European region in the coming decades.
The water chestnut serves as an ecological indicator of global warming, reflecting feedback loops between aquatic species and climate change in their native habitats.