MADISON Using the meticulous phenological records of two iconic American naturalists, Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, scientists have demonstrated that native plants in the eastern United States are flowering as much as a month earlier in response to a warming climate.
The new study is important because it gives scientists a peek inside the black box of ecological change in response to a warming world. In addition, the work may also help predict effects on important agricultural crops, which depend on flowering to produce fruit.
The new study was published online today (Jan. 16, 2013) in the Public Library of Science One (PLOS ONE) by a team of researchers from Boston and Harvard Universities and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Compared to the timing of spring flowering in Thoreau's day, native plants such as serviceberry and nodding trillium are blooming 11 days earlier, on average, in the area around Concord, Mass., where Thoreau famously lived and worked. Nearly a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, where Leopold gathered his records of blooming plants like wild geranium and marsh marigold, the change is even more striking. In 2012, the warmest spring on record for Wisconsin, plants bloomed on average nearly a month earlier than they did just 67 years earlier when Leopold made his last entry.
"These historical records provide a snapshot in time and a baseline of sorts against which we can compare more recent records from the period in which climate change has accelerated," explains Stan Temple, a co-author of the study and an emeritus UW-Madison professor of wildlife ecology. Temple is also a senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wis., a stone's throw from the iconic shack where Leopold made many of his observations.
Although the new study is not the first to document the relationship between temperature and flowering dates and the trend toward climate-driven early bloo
|Contact: Stan Temple|
University of Wisconsin-Madison