GPC Members Login
If you have any problems or have forgotten your login please contact [email protected]

Early bloomers: Statistical tool reveals climate change impacts on plants

Early flowering, early fruiting: Anecdotal evidence of climate change is popping up as quickly as spring crocuses, but is it coincidence or confirmation that plants’ timing is shifting in response to warming temperatures?

Scientists have had few tools to piece together disparate, anecdotal data into a collective, bigger picture. Now, however, McGill University biologist Jonathan Davies and colleagues have produced a statistical estimator that extracts meaningful measures of phenological change – that is, the time a plant first leafs-out, flowers or sets fruit – from data collected by current and ancestral citizen scientists (Henry David Thoreau among the latter cohort), and along a continuous record from herbaria collections stretching more than two centuries into the past. Their findings appear in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“Plant phenology provides a powerful symbol of how climate change is impacting our environment, and these changes can be observed both in nature and in the crops we plant and grow to feed ourselves,” Davies says. “Because we have short memories, it is difficult, however, to determine whether the changes we observe today are unusual or if they simply represent natural variation from year to year.”

Using new statistical techniques, the researchers show how it is possible to estimate, from dried plants housed in herbaria, when a flower first bloomed. “Plants in herbaria number in the millions, but they are often hidden from view,” Davies says. “Our work shows how these dusty specimens can provide new insights into how human activities have altered today’s climate, by contrasting the time a flower bloomed in the past to observation in the present day.”

Utah State University scientist Will Pearse, lead author of the paper, says that “using this estimator, we can place modern observations within the context of a vast wealth of historical data.” Pearse, a former postdoctoral fellow at McGill, says the new technique also unleashes the power and emphasizes the value of citizen science.

Read the paper: A statistical estimator for determining the limits of contemporary and historic phenology.

Article source: McGill University.


Climate change risk for half of plant and animal species in biodiversity hotspots

Up to half of plant and animal species in the world's most naturally rich areas, such as the Amazon and the Galapagos, could face local extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked.

Flood, drought and disease tolerant -- one gene to rule them all

An international collaboration between researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Nagoya University and the University of Western Australia has resulted in a breakthrough in plant biology. Since 2014, the researchers have worked on identifying the genetic background for the improved flood tolerance observed in rice, wheat and several natural wetland plants. In a New Phytologist, article, the researchers describe the discovery of a single gene that controls the surface properties of rice, rendering the leaves superhydrophobic.

Plants overcome hunger with the aid of autophagy

Researchers at Tohoku University have found that plants activate autophagy in their leaf cells to derive amino acids that are used for survival under energy-starved "hunger" conditions. The findings show that amino acid utilization in plants can be controlled by the manipulation of autophagy.