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Budding research links climate change and earlier flowering plants

According to research published today by a University of Cincinnati faculty member, native plants in southwestern Ohio are flowering significantly earlier, a finding he attributes, at least in part, to global warming.

UC biologist Denis Conover, field service associate professor, has spent countless hours walking the Shaker Trace Wetlands at Miami Whitewater Forest over the last 18 years to survey hundreds of different plant species.

Conover's results, published in the December issue of Ecological Restoration, reveal that for species that were observed flowering during two distinct multi-year surveys, a significant number of wild plants (39 percent) bloomed earlier from 2005 to 2008 than when he recorded the same species' blooming times from 1992 to 1996. Forty-five percent of the plants bloomed at the same time, and 16 percent bloomed earlier.

"I was doing a plant survey to see how the wetlands had changed over the years, and I noticed a lot of the plants were blooming earlier than they had in the previous survey," said Conover.

The biologist pointed out that the mean annual temperature during the survey periods increased nearly 2 degrees from 53.38 degrees (11.88 C) to 55.27 degrees (12.93 C) in roughly a decade's time.

"This is a big change for such a short time period," said Conover. "There is a lot of data coming from all over the world indicating that biological communities are being impacted by warmer temperatures."

To determine the impact of these changes, Conover said scientists would need to look closely at the complete ecological picture, including the impact on insects and birds that interact with the plants.

"If the right insects aren't out at the right time, it could affect some of the cross-pollination that goes on," he said. Or it could affect certain birds that depend on the seeds from those plants. Everything is interrelated. It is hard to say what impact it will have. We

Contact: John Bach
University of Cincinnati

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