Botanical Evidence For Global Warming

Botanical evidence for global warming is being extracted from the rich trove of journals and records kept by gardeners and farmers in areas such as New England. Henry David Thoreau's writings are an early version of this form of information that is allowing comparisons to be made with weather in prior decades and the current weather patterns. It takes at least 30 years of records to have sufficient data to make statements about the climate of an area. Those who have consistently kept records of the arrival of birds, of the blossoming of plants, for 30 or more years, have data that can be used to verify climate changes. Amateur naturalists, hunters, fishermen, bird watchers, and local nursery growers, as well as farmers, are supplying records that can demonstrate climate change. When compiled, if the field observations of amateur naturalists are close to the trends observed in scientifically collected data, then the scientific inferences of global warming and its effects gain additional support.

Another botanical observation that provides evidence of global warming is the famous blossoming of the cherry trees in Washington, D.C. Scientists from the Smithsonian Institute have produced evidence that the cherry trees are blooming seven days earlier than they did a mere 30 years ago. The change is apparently due to global warming. Studies by the Smithsonian's Department of Botany have found that records from the last 30 years show that between 1970 and 2000, almost all of the species of common plants studied bloomed earlier in 2000 than in 1970, by at least four and a half days.

Dutch botanists have begun studying epiphytes in order to understand the impact of climate change. Epiphytes are organisms that grow on living plants. They include algae, lichens, mosses, ferns, bacteria, and some fungi. Their specific focus has been on lichen species in the Netherlands. Lichen distribution and species diversity have changed significantly over the last 30 years. At first, the changes were because of reductions in pollution; later changes correlate well with temperature increases. Other European scientists have found that bryophyte species in central Europe are subtropical and are now expanding their range. The changes are indicative of botanical changes being wrought by global warming. In Costa Rica and in the Bolivian Andes mountains, epiphytes are also being used as indicators of global warming. A number of species of epiphytes have moved to higher elevations. Others in lower elevations have diminished, which suggests stresses caused by temperatures that exceed the species tolerances.

In Japan, studies conducted between 1981 and 2005 have found that 17 species and hybrids of cherry trees from Mt. Takao in Tokyo are flowering earlier previously. Each species is blooming between three to five days earlier for each one degree C increase in temperature. The effects of the changes on the gene flow and the pollination patterns are as yet unknown. Many botanists believe that Africa will suffer the most from increasing global warming and the resulting botanical changes. In Australia, the grasslands of Tasmania are also currently threatened, according to botanists studying the area.

SEE ALSo: Climate Zones; Climatic Data, Historical Records; Climatic Data, Tree Ring Records; Greenhouse Effect; Plants.

BIBLIogRAPHY. D.J. Beerling, Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History (Oxford University Press, 2007); Brian Capon, Botany for Gardeners (Timber Press, Inc., 2005); T.J. Elpel, Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification (HOPS Press, LLC, 2004); V.H. Heywood et al., Flowering Plant Families of the World (Firefly Books, Ltd., 2007); Estelle Levetin and Karen McMahon, Plants and Society (McGraw-Hill, 2005); W.H. Lewis, Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man's Health (Wiley, 1977); Rosie Martin, The Complete Botanical Illustration Course: With the Eden Project (Batsford, B.T., Ltd., 2006); Randy Moore, Botany (Wm. C. Brown, 1995); Murray Nabors, Introduction to Botany (Benjamin Cummings, 2003); Peter H.H. Raven, R.F. Evert, and S.E. Eichhorn, Biology of Plants (W.H. Freeman Company, 2004); William Stearn, Botanical Latin (Timber Press, Inc., 2004); Meriel Thurstan, K.M. Van de Graff, and J.L. Crawley, Photographic Atlas for the Botany Laboratory (Morton Publishing Company, 2004).

Andrew J. Waskey Dalton State College

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