Disrupted seasonal biology impacts health, food security and ecosystems

T. J. Stevenson*, M. E. Visser, W. Arnold, P. Barrett, S. Biello, A. Dawson, D. L. Denlinger, D. Dominoni, F. J. Ebling, S. Elton, N. Evans, H. M. Ferguson, R. G. Foster, M. Hau, D. T. Haydon, D. G. Hazlerigg, P. Heideman, J. G. C. Hopcraft, N. N. Jonsson, N. Kronfeld-SchorV. Kumar, G. A. Lincoln, R. MacLeod, S. A. M. Martin, M. Martinez-Bakker, R. J. Nelson, T. Reed, J. E. Robinson, D. Rock, W. J. Schwartz, I. Steffan-Dewenter, E. Tauber, S. J. Thackeray, C. Umstatter, T. Yoshimura, B. Helm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The rhythm of life on earth is shaped by seasonal changes in the environment. Plants and animals show profound annual cycles in physiology, health, morphology, behaviour and demography in response to environmental cues. Seasonal biology impacts ecosystems and agriculture, with consequences for humans and biodiversity. Human populations show robust annual rhythms in health and well-being, and the birth month can have lasting effects that persist throughout life. This review emphasizes the need for a better understanding of seasonal biology against the backdrop of its rapidly progressing disruption through climate change, human lifestyles and other anthropogenic impact. Climate change is modifying annual rhythms to which numerous organisms have adapted, with potential consequences for industries relating to health, ecosystems and food security. Disconcertingly, human lifestyles under artificial conditions of eternal summer provide the most extreme example for disconnect from natural seasons, making humans vulnerable to increased morbidity and mortality. In this review, we introduce scenarios of seasonal disruption, highlight key aspects of seasonal biology and summarize from biomedical, anthropological, veterinary, agricultural and environmental perspectives the recent evidence for seasonal desynchronization between environmental factors and internal rhythms. Because annual rhythms are pervasive across biological systems, they provide a common framework for transdisciplinary research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20151453
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1817
Early online date14 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

This paper first originated during the Symposium and Workshop ‘Seasons of Life’ hosted by the University of Glasgow in November 2013. Additional funding was kindly provided by BBSRC and the British Society for Neuroendocrinology (BSN).


  • annual
  • fitness
  • desynchrony
  • one-health
  • biological rhythm
  • circannual
  • photoperiodic signal-transduction
  • plant-pollinator interactions
  • climate-change
  • immune function
  • circannual rhythms
  • human-reproduction
  • population-growth
  • bee pollinators
  • disease risk
  • day length


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