Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Woody Plants Adapted To Past Climate Change More Slowly Than Herbs

Date:
September 27, 2009
Source:
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Summary:
Can we predict which species will be most vulnerable to climate change by studying how they responded in the past? A new study of flowering plants provides a clue. An analysis of more than 5,000 species reveals that woody plants adapted to past climate change more slowly than herbaceous plants did. If the past is any indicator of the future, woody plants may have a harder time than other plants keeping pace with global warming.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. If evolutionary history repeats itself, woody plants may have a harder time than herbaceous plants keeping pace with global warming.
Credit: iStockphoto/Francisco Romero

Can we predict which species will be most vulnerable to climate change by studying how they responded in the past? A new study of flowering plants provides a clue. An analysis of more than 5000 plant species reveals that woody plants — such as trees and shrubs — adapted to past climate change much more slowly than herbaceous plants did. If the past is any indicator of the future, woody plants may have a harder time than other plants keeping pace with global warming, researchers say.

In a new study, biologists at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and Yale University teamed up to find out how flowering plants adapted to new climates over the course of their evolution. By integrating previously published genealogies for several plant groups with temperature and rainfall data for each species, they were able to measure how fast each lineage filled new climate niches over time.

When they compared woody and herbaceous groups, they found that woody plants adapted to new climates 2 to 10 times slower than herbs. "Woody plants eventually evolved to occupy about the same range of climates that herbaceous plants did, but woody plants took a lot longer to get there," said lead author Stephen Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC.

The researchers trace the disparity to differences in generation time between the two groups. Longer-lived plants like trees and shrubs typically take longer to reach reproductive age than fast-growing herbaceous plants, they explained. "Some woody plants take many years to produce their first flower, whereas for herbs it could take just a couple months," said co-author Jeremy Beaulieu, a graduate student at Yale University.

Because woody plants have longer reproductive cycles, they also tend to accumulate genetic changes at slower rates, prior research shows. "If genetic mutations build up every generation, then in 1000 years you would expect plants with longer generation times to accumulate fewer mutations per unit time," said Smith. This could explain why woody plants were slower to adapt to new environments. If genetic mutations provide the raw material for evolution, then woody plants simply didn't accumulate mutations fast enough to keep up. "If woody and herbaceous plants were running a race, the herbs would be the hares and the woody plants would be the tortoises," said Beaulieu.

By understanding how plants responded to climate change in the past, scientists may be better able to predict which groups will be hardest hit by global warming in the future. Unlike the tortoise and the hare, however, in this case slow and steady may not win the race. "Woody groups are obviously at a disadvantage as the climate changes," Beaulieu explained.

Does this mean that ecosystems dominated by trees — such as rainforests — will be more likely to disappear? Possibly. "If we look to the past for our clues, chances are trees will continue to respond much slower than herbs — as much as 10 times slower," Smith said. "But if the rate of climate change is 100 times faster, then they could all be in trouble. The kind of change we're experiencing now is so unprecedented," he added. While this study focused on long-term change over the last 100 million years, most climate models predict significant warming in the next century, the researchers explained. "That time frame may be too quick for any plant," Beaulieu said.

The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) is an NSF-funded collaborative research center operated by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University.

The team's findings will be published online in the Sept. 23 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Smith, S. A. and J. M. Beaulieu. Life-history influences rates of climatic niche evolution in flowering plants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Sept. 23, 2009 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1176

Cite This Page:

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "Woody Plants Adapted To Past Climate Change More Slowly Than Herbs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923121441.htm>.
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). (2009, September 27). Woody Plants Adapted To Past Climate Change More Slowly Than Herbs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923121441.htm
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "Woody Plants Adapted To Past Climate Change More Slowly Than Herbs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923121441.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) In a new study, a promising experimental treatment for Ebola managed to cure a group of infected macaque monkeys. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins