(Boston) Boston University and Harvard University researchers have established for the first time that a study of evolutionary relatedness among plant populations is critical when considering the patterns of species loss due to climate change. Rapid changes in temperature which have led to changes in the timing of seasonal activities, such as flowering, make some closely related groups of species notably orchids, dogwoods, lilies and many sunflower relatives -- more susceptible to swift declines than others.
These cautionary findings were developed based on a continuing study of 473 species in the fields, wetlands and deciduous forest of Concord, Massachusetts where changes in flowering times were first inventoried by Henry David Thoreau 156 years ago and regularly updated since then.
A phylogenetic or evolutionary context now provides an important predictive value for thinking about which plant species will be lost due to rapid climate change, noted Boston University conservation biologist Richard Primack. He is an author of the research study titled "Phylogenetic patterns of species loss in Thoreau's woods are driven by climate change," that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online today. Since 2002, he and his students have actively tracked how warming temperatures have shifted the flowering times of plant species in the woods at Walden Pond and elsewhere in Concord. . They now find that wildflower species are also declining and being lost due to climate change.
The other authors are Charles G. Willis, Brad Ruhfel and Charles C. Davis of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the Harvard University Herbaria along with Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, formerly of Boston University's Department of Biology.
They concluded that the climate-influenced loss of plant diversity has been so great in Concord, despite 60% of the area being well protected or underdeveloped since
|Contact: Ronald Rosenberg|