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Springtime blooms seen earlier now than in the past, say Boston University biologists

(Boston) Taking something of a back-to-the-future approach, biologists from Boston University have looked into the past to find that flowering plants growing today blossom more than a week earlier than a century ago. Their findings, being presented at the Society for Conservation Biology's annual meeting in New York City July 30 August 2, show that among the plants studied in Boston's Arnold Arboretum, flowering times have moved forward over the decades, with the plants flowering eight days earlier on average from 1980 to 2002 than they did from 1900 to 1920.

What has influenced this rush to flower? Primarily temperature, says Richard Primack, a BU biology professor and head of the research team. Since 1885, Boston's mean annual temperature has increased 1.5 degrees Celsius or nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit. According to Primack's team, this increase in mean temperature, especially in the months February through May, has influenced the shift in flowering times.

In addition to its scientific insights, the study may provide a model for public participation in climate change research. The relatively low-tech, data-from-the-community protocol used by the team might open such studies to participation by botanical gardens, zoos, museums, or even individuals who, over the years, have carefully collected and tended records on how biological organisms respond to their environment.

"It's an untapped resource that could have widespread applications," says Abraham Miller-Rushing, a graduate student on the BU research team. "There's always a pressure to find out what's happened in the past so as to better understand what's happening today. This is a new and different way to find out what's happened."

Assisted by BU undergraduates Carolyn Imbres and Daniel Primack and by Peter Del Tredici, a senior research scientist at the Arboretum, the researchers combed herbarium records dating back to 1885
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Contact: Ann Marie Menting
amenting@bu.edu
617-358-1240
Boston University
26-Jul-2004


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