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Friday, May 4, 2012

Experiments Underestimate Plants Respond to Climate Change

Map of the experimental and observational sites
The map covers 14 long-term observational phenology studies and 36 experimental phenology studies (one experimental study site, in Australia, is not shown)
The evidence suggests that spring comes earlier than expected by scientists over the years. This happens because the studies underestimate how plants respond to climate change. An international research team that included Steven Travers, assistant professor of biological sciences at North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND, United States, has been investigating it. The research team analyzed 50 plant studies on four continents. The notable research results show that the timing of flowering and leafing plants, due to global warming, appears to be much greater than previously estimated in warming experiments.

“The data suggest that the advances in the start of spring worldwide could be much greater than previously estimated,” said Dr. Travers. “We know that plants are shifting the timing of flowering and leafing all over the world in response to climate change, with potentially important ecological effects, but we are basing predictions of how much timing is shifting and what future communities will look like on the outcome of artificial warming experiments over short periods of time,” he said.

“Instead, our study found that plants are shifting more dramatically across the globe than predicted by the artificial experiments. Thus, to better understand the ecological consequences of climate change, we need to establish more long-term observatory networks of plants in the field and improve artificial warming experiments,” said Dr. Travers.

The research was judged to be very important for the global warming models predict the in the future. Because, although ecologists use the long-term historical records to trace the flowering plants and leafing, ecologists should also be used in the plot field experiments to estimate how plants respond to temperature.

The research team created new global databases and then compared how sensitive the plants were to temperature, documenting the degree to which plants shift the timing of leafing and flowering with warming. Calculations were made from experiments and then compared to long-term monitoring records.
For more than two decades, scientists have used warming experiments to extrapolate future climate conditions. The approach rests on a critical but little-tested assumption that plant responses to experimental warming match the long-term responses to global warming. The group of researchers tested that assumption to assess how effective warming experiments are for long-term forecasting and prediction.

Astounding results of this research is, underestimate the response of plants to climate change becomes more than four-fold when compared with long-term historical records. The group compared 1,634 species based on long-term observations and short-term warming experiments, with research results noted in the paper “Warming experiments underpredict plant phenological responses to climate change.”

The results of this research also show that using experiments and historical data may be providing a less than full picture of climate change. Improving the design of warming experiments is expected to be crucial, according to researchers involved in the study.

This story has edited by author of threelas
Source: Newswise
Publication: Nature

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