Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Using dormant twigs to investigate the impacts of climate change

Posted by Amanda Gallinat and Richard Primack

Climate change biologists want to understand the factors that determine when trees, shrubs, and vines leaf out in the spring. However, it is difficult to conduct leaf-out experiments on these plants, in part because individuals can be very large and difficult to maneuver. The Primack Lab and other researchers have recently employed a new method using dormant twigs as representatives of wild plants in order to overcome this problem and predict the future impacts of climate change.

Along with Annette Menzel and Julia Laube from the Technical University of Munich, we recently published a Viewpoint article in Annals of Botany describing this new experimental method. The method involves cutting dormant twigs from wild trees, shrubs, and vines, at a single date or multiple dates, putting the twigs in water in controlled environments and monitoring leaf-out, flowering, or other events. 

Dormant twigs in water in controlled laboratory conditions, photographed by Julia Laube

Experiments using this method have already shown that trees and shrubs rely mainly on a mixture of measuring the length of the winter and spring warming to determine their leaf-out times. Also, non-native invasive shrubs are much faster to leaf out in a very early spring than native trees and shrubs, which could give them the advantage of an extended growing season in the future.

Using twig experiments, the Primack lab demonstrated that non-native invasive species will leaf out faster than native species in a very early spring

Read the full article, “From observations to experiments in phenology research: investigating climate change impacts on trees and shrubs using dormant twigs” HERE.

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