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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Phenology, Flowers, & Climate Change

Phenology, Flowers, & Climate Change

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, December 30, 2019/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, video, sustainability, environment, climate change, plants

                     Western Spring Beauty, Colorado (credit: Southwest Colorado Wildflowers)

Anyone with a garden has observed the timing of the first spring bulbs, shrubs, or trees blooming. Such environmentally controlled events were carefully tracked by Henry David Thoreau who collected flowering records in Concord, Massachusetts over 150 years ago. His notes on 'first blooming' and other life-cycle dates is an ecological process now called phenology.

Plants are very sensitive to their environment so they are good indicators of climate change due to increasing temperatures or declining snow cover. A study published in Global Change Biology shows just how sensitive they can be over a very short time period, even a few short years. Dartmouth researcher Zachariah Gezon led research on the western Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata), a wildflower to determine its sensitivity to timed events. Spring Beauty is one of the earliest plants to emerge from under the snow after the spring thaw in the Rocky Mountains.

Using a clever experiemental design, Gezon showed how the bulbous plant would react to shifting dates of snow disappearance. The Dartmouth team cleared snow from designated test plots while there was still more than three feet remaining on areas outside the plots. In the cleared areas, an early flowering response was triggered in the dormant bulbs similar to what would be expected if climate change had induced temperatures to melt the snow. The time of flowering in the test plots occurred earlier than occurred in the uncleared areas. On average, over the three year study, Spring Beauty's in the cleared plots bloomed 10 days earlier than the same plants in snow covered areas. Besides the plant's sensitivity to an earlier snow 'melt', simulating a warmer mountain environment, the flowering occurred before insect pollinators were available so no seeds were produced.

The science of phenology is explained in this video and a national organization, National Phenology Network, exists so 'citizen scientists' can contribute their own observations to further this important science at the cutting edge of climate change.



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