"We used relationships revealed in historical records to predict how 47 species of native plants would respond to unprecedented spring temperatures, but that has only been possible because naturalists, past and present, kept good records of what they observed in nature," Temple avers.
Importantly, the results give scientists a peek into the subtleties of ecological change in response to climate change. Flowering of native plants, harbinger of spring in the world's temperate regions, signals the start of the growing season and changes in the timing of flowering have broad implications for the animals and insects that depend on the plants.
"Earlier blooming exposes plants to a greater risk of experiencing cold snaps that can damage blossoms and prevent fruiting," says Temple. "The Door County (Wisconsin) cherry crop was ruined in 2012 because the trees bloomed very early in response to record-breaking warmth only to be hit by subsequent frost."
The new study keyed on the detailed phenological records of 32 native plant species in Concord, Mass., kept between 1852 and 1858 by Thoreau, a pioneering naturalist best known as the author of Walden, as well as later records. A second data set of flowering times for 23 species in southern Wisconsin was compiled by Leopold, a renowned wildlife ecologist at the University of Wisconsin and author of A Sand County Almanac. Leopold and his students gathered their data in Dane and Sauk Counties between 1935 and 1945. From 1977 until she died in 2011, Aldo Leopold's daughter Nina Leopold Bradley resumed the collection of phenological records near the Leopold Shack.<
|Contact: Stan Temple|
University of Wisconsin-Madison