Nav: Home

Wildflower declines in Thoreau's Concord woods are due to climate changes

October 27, 2008

(Boston) Boston University and Harvard University researchers have established for the first time that a study of evolutionary relatedness among plant populations is critical when considering the patterns of species loss due to climate change. Rapid changes in temperature which have led to changes in the timing of seasonal activities, such as flowering, make some closely related groups of species - notably orchids, dogwoods, lilies and many sunflower relatives -- more susceptible to swift declines than others.

These cautionary findings were developed based on a continuing study of 473 species in the fields, wetlands and deciduous forest of Concord, Massachusetts where changes in flowering times were first inventoried by Henry David Thoreau 156 years ago and regularly updated since then.

A phylogenetic or evolutionary context now provides an important predictive value for thinking about which plant species will be lost due to rapid climate change, noted Boston University conservation biologist Richard Primack. He is an author of the research study titled "Phylogenetic patterns of species loss in Thoreau's woods are driven by climate change," that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online today. Since 2002, he and his students have actively tracked how warming temperatures have shifted the flowering times of plant species in the woods at Walden Pond and elsewhere in Concord. . They now find that wildflower species are also declining and being lost due to climate change.

The other authors are Charles G. Willis, Brad Ruhfel and Charles C. Davis of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the Harvard University Herbaria along with Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, formerly of Boston University's Department of Biology.

They concluded that the climate-influenced loss of plant diversity has been so great in Concord, despite 60% of the area being well protected or underdeveloped since Thoreau's time, that a global approach to conservation prioritization is necessary to minimize future species loss. And conservation strategies will require information both on the current ecology of the species as well as their past evolutionary history.

Their study, which examines changes in species abundance and habitat along with two separate measures of flowering time response to temperature, notes that since Thoreau's time species flower an average of seven days earlier. Moreover, the mean temperature in the Concord area has risen 2.4 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years and is expected to climb between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius during the next 100 years. These temperature changes are linked to flowering times.

"Species whose flowering time are not responsive to changes in temperature are decreasing in abundance," the study states. "Most strikingly, species with the ability to track short-term seasonable temperature variation have faired significantly better under recent warming trends. In addition, species whose flowering times have shifted to be earlier in the years over the long-term have also fared significantly better under recent warming trends. Based on our regression estimates, change in abundance over the last 100 years is greatest when assessed against species' ability to track short-term seasonal temperature versus long-term flowering shifts. Thus, the association between flowering time tracking and change in abundance is a better estimator of species response to rising temperatures."

The study also accounted for other plant life cycle influences such as the lack of available insect pollinators or the increased flower or seed predation. The authors found the phonological response to insects may correlate with seasonable temperatures. This suggests that plant species that respond to temperature changes may be better at maintaining important periodic interactions with pollinators or better at avoiding negative interactions such as predation.

The population declines of specific flowering species - those that did not respond to temperature - included anemones and buttercups, asters and campanulas, bluets, bladderworts, dogwoods, lilies, mints, orchids, roses, saxifrages and violets.
-end-
About Boston University

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school's research and teaching mission.

Boston University

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.