As the climate has warmed, many plants are starting to grow leaves and bloom flowers earlier. A new study published in the journal, Nature, suggests that most field experiments may underestimate the degree to which the timing of leafing and flowering changes with global warming.
Understanding how plants are responding to climate change will help develop more accurate indicators of spring, forecast the onset of allergy season or the chances of western wildfires, manage wildlife and invasive plants, and help inform habitat restoration plans.
In this new study, scientists evaluated the sensitivity of plants to changes in temperature using two sources: experimental plots versus historical observations from natural sites.
The experiments analyzed in this study were conducted by artificially inducing warming in small study plots, and then measuring plant responses. The historical observations entailed long-term monitoring of multiple species at natural ecological research sites without any manipulation. The date of leafing and flowering was synthesized for dozens of warming experiments and monitoring sites across the Northern Hemisphere.
Scientists conclude that compared to warming experiments, historical monitoring shows temperature sensitivity to be four times greater for leafing and over eight times faster for flowering.
On average, the warming experiments predicted that every degree rise in Celsius would advance plants’ flowering and leafing from half a day to 1.6 days, while historical observations indicate a temperature sensitivity of about 5 to 6 days per degree Celsius. The finding was strikingly consistent across species and datasets. Conclusions from this study are based on analysis of more than 1600 plant species on four continents.
The study of how climatic variations and trends impact seasonal events in plants and animals is termed “phenology.” This includes when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn, or when leaves turn colors in the fall.
The study was conducted by an interdisciplinary team led by Elizabeth Wolkovich, with the University of British Columbia, and Ben Cook, with NASA-Goddard. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the State of California and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) also provided support and assisted with assembling and analyzing historical phenological observations and climate data.
Future Tracks: Experiments and Observations
The authors of the Nature paper recognize the value of both experiments and monitoring. They call for standardization of measurements and protocols as well as improvements in experimental design, and continuation and expansion of long-term monitoring efforts like the USA-NPN.
The USA-NPN brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States. The USA-NPN was established by the USGS in collaboration with the National Science Foundation.
“This study underscores the reasons for recent establishment of a USA-NPN to help track, understand, and hopefully forecast different species responses to climate variability and change across the U.S.,” said USGS scientist Julio Betancourt, who is a co-author of this new report.
You Can Help! Track the Pulse of our Planet
We need your help to track the pulse of our planet. Through the USA-NPN’s Nature’s Notebook, citizens across the nation are providing data on plants and animals.
People like you — gardeners, farmers, birders, hikers, anglers, joggers, or all-around nature enthusiasts — are already recording the recurring events they see in the lives of the plants and animals around them. This includes when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn, or when leaves turn colors in the fall.
Track seasonal changes in plants and animals with Nature’s Notebook Read more.
Each summer the Northwest Climate Science Center hosts a weeklong Climate Boot Camp. The Boot Camp invites early career climate professionals from the Northwest and across the country get together to expand their knowledge and skills. Read more.
California’s hotter droughts are a preview of a warmer future world. Read more
Researchers from the Northwest Climate Science Center are working to better understand the factors that effect aspen resiliency. Read more.
Ecological drought is an important climate stressor for fish and wildlife species. Scientists are working to identify areas and species most at risk. Read more
While Alaska burns, researchers grapple with how fire will shape the boreal forest in the future. Read more
Landsat 8 paints intriguing geology feature in vivid detail. Read more
Researchers from around the world take a look into a future with warmer forests. Read more
USGS and partners unravel climate change effects on fish in the United States and Canada. Read more
May is American Wetlands Month! Scientists across the country examine climate change impacts to these important ecosystems. Read More
Interior’s Climate Science Centers helping coastal tribes and indigenous peoples prepare for climate change. Read more
Game of Thrones is one big earth science lesson!
Helping prepare communities for climate impacts. Read more
Reef corals are finding refuge from warming seawater temperatures, increased solar radiation and ocean acidification in an unlikely place. Read more
Once again, an extreme retreat of Alaska’s summer sea ice has led large numbers of Pacific walruses to haul out on land instead of on offshore ice. Read more
Careful estimates of the future look of the land. Read more
Indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change – Interior’s Climate Science Centers collaborate with them to develop adaptation strategies. Read more
Accurate elevation data heighten climate investigations worldwide. Read more
A new plan aims to improve coordination of Earth observation efforts among government agencies. Read more
USGS releases an assessment of biologic carbon sequestration for the eastern United States. Read more
Become an iCoast citizen scientist and help identify coastal changes using aerial photographs! Read more
Water is key to life on Earth. Read more
On March 3, the U.S. Geological Survey marks 135 years of science for America. Read more
The Olympics is the world’s premier athletic competition but also a tribute to Earth science. Read more
The extent and distribution of the world’s ice, primarily in the form of glaciers, provide insight about changes in the Earth’s climate and changes in sea-level. Read more
For the first time, all of Iceland’s glaciers are shown on a single map. Read more
Thoroughly tested and calibrated, Landsat 8 officially begins round-the-clock and round-the-world duty on May 30. Read more
Crews respond to spring flooding in the Midwest and Northern Plains. Read more...
The USGS is ready to address some of society’s most critical issues for years to come. Read more
Join citizens and scientists in tracking The Pulse of Our Planet!
On March 3, the U.S. Geological Survey turned 134. Established by Congress in 1879 and built on a legacy of impartial science, the bureau faces unusual challenges in the near term.
The Nation’s next Earth-observing satellite was successfully launched on February 11. Once it is mission-certified in orbit, the satellite will become Landsat 8. Read more
The recent past sheds light on preserving the future of economically and ecologically important native trout populations across the West. Read more
Watch USGS scientists in the Arctic track Pacific walruses to examine how these animals are faring in a world with less sea ice. Read more
The world's longest-running Earth-observing satellite program.
Dust storms July 21-22 blinded motorists, grounded flights and knocked out electricity. What’s causing the dust storms?
The majority of the nation is facing dry conditions; in most areas drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify. Read more
A contest to celebrate 40 years of Landsat. Read more
Please comment on the USGS’ draft science strategies! Read more
Timing is everything! Consider helping track changes in spring’s arrival
Need a historical map for your genealogy research? You are in luck. We’ve got what you need! Download and view USGS historical maps from the comfort of your own home.
Flood Safety Awareness Week is March. 12-16. What can you do to prepare?
National Groundwater Awareness Week is Mar. 11-17, 2012. See how USGS science is connecting groundwater and surface water.
Since Japan’s March 11, 2011, Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami, scientists at the USGS have learned much to help better prepare for a large earthquake in the United States.
Five USGS employees honored with Distinguished Service Awards for their service to the nation
The USGS and UNESCO have produced a book that gives us a new way to look at our shared global heritage.
Groundwater in aquifers on the East Coast and in the Central U.S. has the highest risk of contamination from radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element and known carcinogen.
The proposed USGS budget reflects research priorities to respond to nationally relevant issues, including water quantity and quality, ecosystem restoration, hydraulic fracturing, natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, and support for the National Ocean Policy, and has a large R&D component.
Caribou expert Layne Adams discusses the lives of reindeer — apart from their famous role on Christmas Eve. How they survive the cold.
Climate science is helping to predict food shortages, identify impacts on human health, and prepare for future conditions.
As demand grows, Landsat data can help us track trends in key resources. Remote-sensing satellites help scientists to observe our world, monitor changes, and detect critical trends in forestry, water, crops, and urban landscapes. Learn more.
A new study provides crucial information for difficult decisions regarding conservation, economic interests, and food and water security. Projected changes for 2010-2099
It's only the beginning of their careers, but these 3 young scientists have forged ahead with innovative research at the frontiers of science. How they've transformed their fields
Oct. 9-15, 2011, is Earth Science Week, themed "Our-Ever Changing Earth," and Oct. 12, 2011, is International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction. Answers to questions posed by a changing world
By 1936, devastating losses of wildlife populations were threatening the Nation’s natural resource heritage. America's first wildlife research center
A dust storm on Tuesday, October 4, blinded motorists and caused a large string of motor vehicle crashes, multiple injuries, and at least one death. What’s causing the dust storms?
USGS scientists study walruses off the northwestern Alaska coast in August as part of their ongoing study of how the Pacific walrus are responding to reduced sea ice conditions in late summer and fall.
USGS scientists are collecting water samples and other data to determine trends in ocean acidification from the least explored ocean in the world.
In support of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, USGS scientists use satellite remote sensing to assess agricultural conditions that foretell famine.
New USGS research shows that rice could become adapted to climate change and some catastrophic events by colonizing its seeds or plants with the spores of tiny naturally occurring fungi. The DNA of the rice plant itself is not changed; instead, researchers are re-creating what normally happens in nature.
Now that field work has wrapped up at the Ice Age "Snowmastodon" fossil site near Snowmass Village, Colo., USGS and other scientists will begin work on unraveling the climate and environmental history of the area.
USGS scientists are studying the Earth’s conditions 3 million years ago to gain insight into the impacts of future climate. Join us Aug. 3 in Reston, Va., to learn how this information is used to better understand the magnitude of changes forecast for the end of this century.
USGS crews continue to measure streamflow and collect water quality and sediment samples in the Ohio and Mississippi River basins using state-of-art instruments.
Over the past four decades, about 14% of the ice and permanent snow of Washington's Mount Rainier has melted due to combined recent warming and reduced precipitation.
USGS science supports management, conservation, and restoration of imperiled, at-risk, and endangered species.
In a unique application of data, this year's report provides the nation's first assessment of birds on public lands and waters.
The USGS, NASA, and other organizations and Federal agencies are studying how climate change affects wildlife and ecosystems.
Early maps of America, documents establishing the provenance of the Hope Diamond and documentation of explorations of the American West-- Join us in discovering the many treasures of the USGS Library.
Using coral growth records and measurements of changing ocean chemistry from increased atmospheric CO2, USGS scientists are providing a foundation for predicting future impacts of ocean acidification and sea-level rise to coral reefs.
Increased dust storm activity may result from enhanced aridity in the Southwest, according to a USGS study.
Provide your input on the draft USGS Global Change Science Strategy by April 8, 2011.
Sea-ice habitats essential to polar bears would likely respond positively should more curbs be placed on global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new modeling study published today in the journal, Nature.
Landscape photos taken in the same place but many years apart reveal dramatic changes due to human and natural factors. The USGS Desert Laboratory Repeat Photography Collection, the largest archive of its kind in the world, is 50 years old.
Decreasing pH and warming temperatures are changing ocean conditions and affecting coral and algal growth in South Florida. USGS scientists are conducting field measurements to learn more.
Many coastal wetlands worldwide including several on the U.S. Atlantic coast may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise in the this century.
USGS findings support recent predictions that climate change will stress ecosystems at lower elevations more than higher elevations. This information may guide future conservation efforts in helping decision makers develop regional landscape predictions about biological responses to climate changes.
The Earth as Art 3 collection, the latest set of Landsat satellite images selected for their artistic quality, reveals an intricate beauty in Earth’s natural patterns.
USGS scientists are investigating sea turtles and their habitats in Dry Tortugas National Park to provide insight that will be used as decision-support tools for managing coral ecosystems.
Looking for information on natural resources, natural hazards, geospatial data, and more? The USGS Education site provides great resources, including lessons, data, maps, and more, to support teaching, learning, K-12 education, and university-level inquiry and research.
The timing of animal migration and reproduction, and observing when plants send out new leaves and bear fruit, is increasingly important in understanding how climate change affects biological and hydrologic systems. Photo credit Copyright C Brandon Cole.
The United States Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) is working to connect Earth observations with public health, agriculture, climate, and data management and dissemination.
USGS studies the relationships among earth surface processes, ecological systems, understanding current changes in the context of prehistoric and recent earth processes, distinguishing between natural and human-influenced changes, and recognizing ecological and physical responses to changes in climate.
5 Scientific Words from Languages Around the World!
Our next EarthWord is what Vanilla Ice’s most famous song might be called one year after it was released.
Think our bad jokes for EarthWords are drying up? Think again...
Watch these acrobatic-sounding winds take a tumble! Read More
Our very first EarthWord! Read More
Get ready to fall in love as the fall season approaches.
7 p.m.—Public lecture (also live-streamed over the Internet)
USGS-led survey finds that national wildlife refuges rate highly with visitors.
Stressed agricultural lands may be releasing less of the moisture needed to protect the breadbasket of a continent.
Spring rains in the eastern Horn of Africa are projected to begin late this year and be substantially lower than normal.
In recognition of World Forestry Day, let’s take a glimpse at USGS science to understand the fate of forests from climate change.
A new study concludes that fossil fuel emissions are likely contributors to a substantial amount of organic carbon found on glaciers in Alaska. Fossil fuel emissions, which contain organic carbon, can speed up the rate of glacier melt when deposited on glacier surfaces. In addition, the organic molecules associated with these deposits can be transportedContinue Reading
The U.S. Geological Survey had a very busy 2011 — below are a few of our highlights from last year.
Despite news articles warning of large-scale releases of methane due to climate change, recent research indicates that most of the world’s gas hydrate deposits should remain stable for the next few thousand years.
Join us on February 1 to view the Earth from space, and discuss the profound impact Landsat has on many facets of our economy, safety, and environment.
Scientists have discovered an outbreak of coral disease called Montipora White Syndrome in Kāneohe Bay, Oahu. The affected coral are of the species Montipora capitata, also known as rice coral.
USGS scientists will join thousands of scientists, managers, and decision makers in Boston this week to present new findings on toxics at the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) conference in the Hynes Convention Center, Nov. 13-17.
On Nov. 3, USGS scientists Patrick Barnard and William Ellsworth will present a public lecture in Menlo Park, CA, providing Bay Area residents information about USGS research in the San Francisco Bay Area, including recent discoveries beneath San Francisco Bay and ongoing studies to better understand earthquake probabilities and the potential hazards associated with strong ground shaking.
Rivers and streams in the United States are releasing substantially more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previously thought.
Climate Change Impacts to Tribal Communities The USGS is working with Native American communities and organizations to understand climate change impacts to their land and neighborhoods. Projects include interviews with indigenous Alaskans to understand their personal observations of climate change, as well as studying how climate change is impacting sand dunes and posing risksContinue Reading
As climate changes, it affects the timing of when leaves emerge, the amount of foliage that grows as well as the timeframe when leaves begin to fall.
How will accelerated glacial melting over the next 50 years as a result of climate change affect the unique Gulf of Alaska and Copper River coastal ecosystems? USGS scientists are studying these processes and impacts.
USGS scientists are assessing the potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for storage in other Earth systems through a process called carbon sequestration.
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Page Last Modified: February 2, 2011