So often when I write about what’s going on in our local research universities, I’m talking about things like Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, and insomnia. But it’s the first full day of spring, and I have a happier subject: wildflowers.
According to a University of Maryland professor’s study spanning nearly four decades, our contemporary wildflower season is more than a month longer than it was in the 1970s.
Starting in 1974, UMD biologist David Inouye looked at more than 2 million (!) wildflower blooms in a Colorado Rocky Mountain meadow 9,500 feet above sea level. Over the years, he found that their blooming patterns changed dramatically in response to climate change: They bloom weeks earlier, reach their peak bloom earlier, and produce their final blooms later in the year. When Inouye first studied the meadow, the wildflower season ran from late May to early September; now it spans late April to late September.
Wildflower seasons aren’t the only thing that’s shifted in response to climate change, Inouye says: “We have red foxes at our study site now. It used to be too cold for them in winter. Now the marmots that live there have to deal with a new predator. But this study shows that even when species don’t actually move, changes in the timing of key events in their life cycles may also result in no analog communities, where species may interact differently than before.”
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