Coming Extinction Of One Of UK's Most Minuscule Plants Yields Information On Climate Change

One of the UK's most spectacularly insignificant plants seems to about to become extinct in this country but in its death throes it is providing researchers from the University of Warwick with important information about the pace of climate change in the UK.

The Iceland Purslane plant is found in only two localities in he UK, the Storr on the Isle of Skye, and on the Ardmeanach Peninsula on Mull - although it is widely distributed in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere - in Norway, the Faroes, and Iceland. It also occurs around the south pole in places such as Tierra del Fuego.

Dr Barry Meatyard from the University of Warwick's Institute of Education is directing a project to monitor the growth of the plant over a number of years and to relate that information to climate change and other biological factors. In the last few years numbers of plants have declined dramatically, in one area there has been a 80% reduction since 1994.

This decline seems to be an indicator of long term climatic change. The Mull Purslane plant population is remotely situated and therefore is unlikely to be affected by herbicides or other direct human influence, however, it is the most southerly situated of the plants and is currently probably at the limit of its climatic range. Any changes in the population over the long term are thus possibly caused by climate change.

What is certain is that the early part of the year has been much drier on the west coast of Scotland in recent years and this spring (1997) many of the burns had dried up by the end of June giving many remote houses cause for concern. By studying the plant the researchers will be able to determine if aberrations in weather are becoming part of a longer term pattern. If climate change is occurring and these weather patterns become more long term it seems likely that the Iceland Purslane could become extinct in Britain. The loss of such an insig

Contact: Dr Barry Meatyard
+44 1203 524228
University of Warwick

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