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Effects of climate change vary greatly across plant families
Date:10/27/2008

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Drawing on records dating back to the journals of Henry David Thoreau, scientists at Harvard University have found that different plant families near Walden Pond have borne the effects of climate change in strikingly different ways. Some of the plant families hit hardest by global warming have included beloved species like lilies, orchids, violets, roses, and dogwoods.

The work appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over the past 150 years, some of the plants in Thoreau's woods have shifted their flowering time by as much as three weeks as spring temperatures have risen, the researchers say, while others have been less flexible. Many plant families that have proven unable to adjust their flowering time have experienced sharp declines or even elimination from the local landscape -- the fate of nearly two-thirds of the plants Thoreau found in the 1850s around Walden Pond in Concord, Mass.

"It had been thought that climate change would result in uniform shifts across plant species, but our work shows that plant species do not respond to climate change uniformly or randomly," says Charles C. Davis, assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Some plants around Walden Pond have been quite resilient in the face of climate change, while others have fared far worse. Closely related species that are not able to adjust their flowering times in the face of rising temperatures are decreasing in abundance."

Some 27 percent of all species Thoreau recorded in the mid-19th century are now locally extinct, and another 36 percent are so sparse that extinction may be imminent. Plant families that have been especially hard-hit by global warming have included lilies, orchids, buttercups, violets, roses, dogwoods, and mints. Many of the gainers have been weedier mustards and knotweeds, along with various non-native species.


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Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

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