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Lessons from a meadow

ong-term field records, CaraDonna's team discovered that over the course of 39 years, the flowering season at the study site has expanded by more than a month, driven by earlier snowmelt and warming climate.

"In a high-mountain ecosystem that is hemmed in by snow for most of the year, a whole month is a big deal," said CaraDonna, who is a member in the lab of UA Distinguished Professor Judith Bronstein.

Located at 9,500 feet in Colorado, the study site at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory encompasses meadows with wildflowers, aspen and conifer forests that are covered by a snow pack for the majority of the year. Once the snow melts in mid-May, flowers have only until early October to emerge, bloom, attract pollinators and disperse their seeds before the snow returns.

In many cases of recent studies, researchers relied on data sets collected by others instead of spending time actually looking at the plants and animals in nature, CaraDonna said.

"Because we have spent so much time outside gathering these phenological data, we began to realize that it's not as simple as the first observation. There is a lot more going on," he said.

"Our observations over the entire course of the season allow us to determine the complete distribution of blooming plants over time, and from those distributions we can gather a much deeper ecological insight and better answers to questions that aim to link climate to biological events."

In addition, the study revealed that the degree to which plants flower at the same time changed over the course of the 39 years, potentially representing a shift in interactions among plants.

"Such interactions can be plants competing over nutrients or pollinators," CaraDonna explained. "For example, if plant species A used to flower all by itself, it used to have a monopoly on the pollinator market. But if plant species B now flowers earlier and overlaps with A, they now both com

Contact: Daniel Stolte
University of Arizona

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