Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ecologists find new clues on climate change in 150-year-old pressed plants

Date:
September 23, 2010
Source:
Wiley-Blackwell
Summary:
Plants picked up to 150 years ago by Victorian collectors and held by the million in herbarium collections across the world could become a powerful -- and much needed -- new source of data for studying climate change, according to new research.

Pressed flowers in an old book.
Credit: iStockphoto/Andrea Haase

Plants picked up to 150 years ago by Victorian collectors and held by the million in herbarium collections across the world could become a powerful -- and much needed -- new source of data for studying climate change, according to research published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Ecology.

The scarcity of reliable long-term data on phenology -- the study of natural climate-driven events such as the timing of trees coming into leaf or plants flowering each spring -- has hindered scientists' understanding of how species respond to climate change.

But new research by a team of ecologists from the University of East Anglia (UEA), the University of Kent, the University of Sussex and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew shows that plants pressed up to 150 years ago tell the same story about warmer springs resulting in earlier flowering as field-based observations of flowering made much more recently.

The team examined 77 specimens of the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) collected between 1848 and 1958 and held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum in London. Because each specimen contains details of when and where it was picked, the researchers were able to match this with Meteorological Office records to examine how mean spring temperatures affected the orchids' flowering.

They then compared these data with field observations of peak flowering of the same orchid species in the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, East Sussex from 1975 to 2006, and found that the response of flowering time to temperature was identical both in herbarium specimens and field data. In both the pressed plants and the field observations, the orchid flowered 6 days earlier for every 1oC rise in mean spring temperature.

The results are first direct proof that pressed plants in herbarium collections can be used to study relationships between phenology and climate change when field-based data are not available, as is almost always the case.

According to the study's lead author, PhD student Karen Robbirt of UEA: "The results of our study are exciting because the flowering response to spring temperature was so strikingly close in the two independent sources of data. This suggests that pressed plant collections may provide valuable additional information for climate-change studies."

"We found that the flowering response to spring temperature has remained constant, despite the accelerated increase in temperatures since the 1970s. This gives us some confidence in our ability to predict the effects of further warming on flowering times."

The study opens up important new uses for the 2.5 billion plant and animal specimens held in natural history collections in museums and herbaria. Some specimens date back to the time of Linnaeus (who devised our system of naming plants and animals) 250 years ago.

Co-author Professor Anthony Davy of UEA says: "There is an enormous wealth of untapped information locked within our museums and herbaria that can contribute to our ability to predict the effects of future climate change on many plant species. Importantly it may well be possible to extend similar principles to museum collections of insects and animals."

Phenology -- or the timing of natural events -- is an important means of studying the impact of climate change on plants and animals.

"Recent climate change has undoubtedly affected the timing of development and seasonal events in many groups of organisms. Understanding the effects of recent climate change is a vital step towards predicting the consequences of future change. But only by elucidating the responses of individual species will we be able to predict the potentially disruptive effects of accelerating climate change on species interactions," he says.

Detecting phenological trends in relation to long-term climate change is not straightforward and relies on scarce long-term studies. "We need information collected over a long period to enable us confidently to identify trends that could be due to climate change. Unfortunately most field studies are relatively brief, so there are very few long-term field data available," Professor Davy explains


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Karen M Robbirt et al. Validation of biological collections as a source of phenological data for use in climate change studies: a case study with the orchid Ophrys sphegodes. Journal of Ecology, 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2010.01727.x

Cite This Page:

Wiley-Blackwell. "Ecologists find new clues on climate change in 150-year-old pressed plants." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922081631.htm>.
Wiley-Blackwell. (2010, September 23). Ecologists find new clues on climate change in 150-year-old pressed plants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922081631.htm
Wiley-Blackwell. "Ecologists find new clues on climate change in 150-year-old pressed plants." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100922081631.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — You're more likely to gain weight while watching action flicks than you are watching other types of programming, says a new study published in JAMA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Get A Mortgage, Receive A Cat — Only In Russia

Get A Mortgage, Receive A Cat — Only In Russia

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The incentive is in keeping with a Russian superstition that it's good luck for a cat to be the first to cross the threshold of a new home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

AFP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Tourists in Palau clamour to dive with sharks thanks to a pioneering conservation initiative -- as the island nation plans to completely ban commercial fishing in its vast ocean territory. 01:15 Video provided by AFP
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