• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: UCSB Closes Out Mary Nutter Classic With Losses to No. 8 Washington, No. 21 Arizona State https://t.co/F5JGYXZ9Ty
    4 hours 10 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Gauchos Defeat No. 16 UCSD in Final Game of Barbara Kalbus Invitational https://t.co/ieJb9ZsJIq
    4 hours 11 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball walks off in wild series finale, clinches sweep of Tulane! RECAP >>> https://t.co/Q4akiOPaVh https://t.co/6pWsFLhNmf
    6 hours 41 min ago
  • ArtsandLectures twitter avatar
    Celebrate the traditions of the gaucho with Argentina's #CheMalambo on Sunday, Apr 23 at 7PM at UCSB Campbell Hall.… https://t.co/z7Qvi0p9UV
    15 hours 2 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    #UCSB professor Luyendyk never intended ‘Zealandia’ to be a new continent's name. https://t.co/aB4RRpsEUj
    16 hours 10 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Altmeyer Smashes Two Homers, Including Walk-Off Winner in 6-5 Win Over No. 20 Missouri https://t.co/Upedr26iud
    1 day 55 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Jacob Delson had 34 kills, most by UCSB MVB player since 2010, but Gauchos drop tight five-setter at UCI. RECAP >>>… https://t.co/q5KGaJXpXe
    1 day 3 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: UC Santa Barb. 0, Washington 7 (Final) UCSB Falls to 34th-ranked Washington, 0-7 https://t.co/bERvf7q21G
    1 day 4 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Gauchos Split Games on Day Two of Barbara Kalbus Invitational, Face No. 16 UCSD Tomorrow https://t.co/C2cigLAaAg
    1 day 5 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WBB: UCSB Drops Decision At #BWCWBB Leading UC Davis 70-61 To Close Regular Season Road Campaign https://t.co/Bj1F1AtnZM
    1 day 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball's offense explodes, Cohen goes yard twice in 14-1 rout of Tulane! RECAP >>> https://t.co/8weh6VX0IB https://t.co/2IvFPM1wKS
    1 day 7 hours ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    From theory to practice, this week's #GauchoCourse prepares soon-to-be professors for the real world. https://t.co/DAj0nUIwAw
    1 day 16 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    MVB: Gauchos snap 7 match losing streak with emphatic sweep of UCSD on Friday night. RECAP >>>… https://t.co/Cee1KbeXOh
    2 days 2 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: UC Santa Barb. 2, Oregon 5 (Final)
    2 days 5 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WBB: Gauchos Face First-Place UC Davis Looking to End Two-Game Skid https://t.co/wRGTYxtxDC
    2 days 6 hours ago

Experiments Do Not Adequately Predict Plant Responses to Global Climate Change, NCEAS Researchers Say

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 17:00
Santa Barbara, CA


For this study, scientists studied plant leafing and flowering cycles.

For this study, scientists studied plant leafing and flowering cycles.


Spring comes sooner every year. Photos Courtesy NCEAS


Test plots allow researchers to run experiments on the probable effects of climate change on plants

Plants may be reacting to climate change more than we think, and the uncertainty could leave us ill-prepared for the future effects of global warming, says an international team of scientists. Their findings, in the article "Warming experiments underpredict plant phenological responses to climate change," is published in the early online edition of the journal Nature.

"This suggests that predicted ecosystem changes –– including continuing advances in the start of spring across much of the globe –– may be far greater than current estimates based on data from experiments," said the paper's first author Elizabeth Wolkovich, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the working group study at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UC Santa Barbara.

Using data accumulated from studies spanning four continents and the responses of 1,634 plant species to temperature change, the researchers found that the advances in the timing of flowering and leafing were less sensitive to temperature changes in warming experiments compared to long-term observations. These results were robust when comparing the same species in experiments and observational studies.

"Long-term records estimate 5-6 days' change in leafing and flowering per degree Celsius, and this is consistent using different long-term datasets, different subsets of species, and different methods for calculating the sensitivities –– the change in days per degree Celsius," said NCEAS researcher Stephanie Pau. "This is compared to a response of less than 1-2 days per degree C estimated using experiments, and these results are less consistent across different studies and species."

The discrepancy has led the scientists, who come from 22 institutions, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to conclude that current models for climate change studies that use experimental evidence should be re-evaluated.

There are several possible reasons, according to the study, that experimental results don't match long-term field observations, including differences in the time frames between experiments and observations, and a fundamental shift in plant responses since the significant warming of the Northern Hemisphere starting in the 1970's. Other issues may include the elements of the experiments themselves –– soil and moisture conditions that could influence plant development as well as lack of, or variation in, the reporting of environmental metrics.

Phenology, or the study of recurring life-cycle events –– in this case the flowering and leafing of plants –– is one of the most critical indicators of how plants respond to gradual global warming: The warmer the climate, the sooner plants leaf and flower. Because historical records are scarce for some locations, and current measurements may already be the result of ongoing climate change, researchers rely on small test plots and artificial warming methods to simulate a future climate that reflects the effects of global warming. By these methods they can also control for hidden variables that affect plant responses.

"Some things that can be done include better standardized measurements of temperature for experiments in much the same way observational networks have standardized measurements, and monitoring of temperature," said Pau.

So what does it mean that plants leaf and flower sooner? In some situations, said co-author Susan Mazer, a professor at the UC Santa Barbara Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, it might increase and lengthen plant productivity, assuming pollinators emerge early as well. In other instances, a "phenological mismatch" may occur, a situation in which plants and their pollinators miss each other, resulting in decline in these populations and others that may depend on them.

The larger ecological consequences of an earlier spring are fairly well understood, said Mazer. However, research still needs to be done to understand the more specific and complex effects.

"The specific consequences of earlier leafing and flowering of plant species are, for most species, completely unknown," said Mazer.

NCEAS Climate Change