New Research Uses Popular Literature to Study Climate Change

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Walden Pond isn’t just the site of Henry David Thoreau’s two-year stint in which he documented a more simple, natural life, it is now the subject of a climate change study that shows how leaf-out times of trees and shrubs have changed since the 1850s.

As a result of Thoreau’s observations, researchers at Boston University have revealed that the leaf-out times of trees and shrubs at Walden Pond are an average of 18 days earlier than observed by Thoreau in the mid 1800s.

“By comparing historical observations with current experiments, we see that climate change is creating a whole new risk for the native plants in Concord,” said Boston University Professor Richard Primack. “Weather in New England is unpredictable, and if plants leaf out early in warm years, they risk having their leaves damaged by a surprise frost. But if plants wait to leaf out until after all chance of frost is lost, they may lose their competitive advantage.”

However, not all plants respond in the same way, the result of which is that native species eventually may be threatened and lose competitive advantage to more resilient invasive shrubs such as Japanese barberry, according to a study published in the new edition of New Phytologist.

“We started to wonder if all trees and shrubs in Concord are equally responsive to warming temperatures in the spring,” says Caroline Polgar, a graduate student with Primack. What she found was surprising. “All species — no exceptions — are leafing out earlier now than they did in Thoreau’s time,” she said. “On average, woody plants in Concord leaf out 18 days earlier now.”

“Our current observations show that plants in Concord today are leafing out earlier than in Thoreau’s time in response to warm temperatures,” she said. “However, the experiments show that as spring weather continues to warm, it will be the invasive shrubs that will be best able to take advantage of the changing conditions.”

Read more at Boston University.

Article appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.