Plant phenology (e.g. timing of spring green-up, flowering) is among the most sensitive indicator of ecological response to ongoing climate variability and change. While previous studies have documented changes in the timing of spring green-up and flowering across different parts of the world, empirical evidence regarding how such ongoing ecological changes impact allergic disease burden at population level is lacking. Because earlier spring green-up may increase season length for tree pollen, we hypothesized that early onset of spring (negative anomaly in start of season (SOS)) will be associated with increased hay fever burden. To test this, we first calculated a median cardinal date for SOS for each county within the contiguous US for the years 2001–2013 using phenology data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). We categorized yearly deviations in SOS for each county from their respective long-term averages as: very early (>3 wks early), early (1–3 wks early), average (within 1 wk), late (1–3 wks late) and very late (> 3 wks late). We linked these data to 2002–2013 National Health Interview Survey data, and investigated the association between changes in SOS and hay fever prevalence using logistic regression. We observed that adults living in counties with a very early onset of SOS had a 14% higher odds of hay fever compared to the reference group, i.e. those living in counties where onset of spring was within the normal range (Odds Ratios (OR): 1.14. 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.03–1.27). Likewise, adults living in counties with very late onset of SOS had a 18% higher odds hay fever compared to the reference group (OR: 1.18, CI: 1.05–1.32). Our data provides the first-ever national scale assessment of the impact of changing plant phenology–linked to ongoing climate variability and change–on hay fever prevalence. Our findings are likely tied to changes in pollen dynamics, i.e early onset of spring increases the duration of exposure to tree pollen, while very late onset of spring increases the propensity of exposure because of simultaneous blooming.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)