CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 3, 2010 -- Invasive plants could become even more prevalent and destructive as climate change continues, according to a new analysis of data stretching back more than 150 years.
Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, the Harvard University scientists who conducted the study say that non-native plants, and especially invasive species, appear to thrive during times of climate change because they're better able to adjust the timing of annual activities like flowering and fruiting.
"These results demonstrate for the first time that climate change likely plays a direct role in promoting non-native species success," says author Charles C. Davis, assistant professor in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. "Secondly, they highlight the importance of flowering time as a trait that may facilitate the success of non-native species. This kind of information could be very useful for predicting the success of future invaders."
Davis and his colleagues analyzed a dataset that began with Henry David Thoreau's cataloging of plants around Walden Pond in the 1850s, when the famed naturalist kept meticulous notes documenting natural history, plant species occurrences, and flowering times. Since then, the mean annual temperature around Concord, Mass., has increased by 2.4 degrees Celsius, or 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit, causing some plants to shift their flowering time by as much as three weeks in response to ever-earlier spring thaws.
"We set out to use this dataset to examine which plants have been the beneficiaries of climate change," Davis says. "Our research suggests quite decisively that non-native and invasive species have been the climate change winners. Climate change will lead to an as-yet unknown shuffling of species, and it appears that invasive species will become more dominant."
Davis and colleagues compared a plethora of plant traits -- everything from height at maturity to flower
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