Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Record breaking early flowering in 2010 and 2012

Post by Libby Ellwood and Richard Primack

In our rambles around Concord last spring, we noticed that the timing of events was dramatically different than what Thoreau had seen. After a mild winter and very warm spring, the plants were flowering way ahead of schedule. When we checked sites weeks ahead of when they had flowered in Thoreau’s time, we found that plants were often about to flower, or even just starting to flower. When we entered our new flowering records from 2012 into our dataset we saw that this was in fact an extraordinary year - plants were flowering three weeks earlier than they were when Thoreau observed them 150 years ago! We made some calls and discovered that not only were things unusual in Massachusetts, but they were unusual in Wisconsin too. Building on observations made by Aldo Leopold, the famous author of A Sand County Almanac, ecologist Stan Temple and colleagues found that plants in Wisconsin are flowering 24 days earlier than they were in the 1930's and 40's. Several important results have come out of our analysis. Plants in Massachusetts flowered much earlier in 2012, and also in 2010 which was another warm year, than they had in previous years based on our long-term datasets started by Thoreau. These results demonstrate that even under the record warm temperatures of recent years, plants have kept pace and continue to flower earlier in warmer years. At some point we expect that plants in Concord will start to experience the negative consequences of early warm springs and mild winters associated with global climate change. Plants might stop flowering earlier, or perhaps even stop flowering altogether and die off if it gets too hot for them. We were also able to demonstrate that these long-term records gathered by Thoreau and Leopold can be used to predict flowering, even in exceptionally warm years.

Read more about our study in the PLoS ONE article, or other media outlets:
US News

No comments:

Post a Comment