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Published May 13, 2012, 04:14 PM

ND Botanist's Records Could Help Climate Research

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota botanist's detailed records, compiled over decades, are helping scientists study how climate change affects plants.

By: Associated Press,

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota botanist's detailed records, compiled over decades, are helping scientists study how climate change affects plants.

O.A. Stevens, a professor for what is now known as North Dakota State University, traveled the state between 1907 and 1961 to record how plants responded to differences in temperature and weather.

"He had a window into what plants were responding to," Steven Travers, an assistant professor of biology at NDSU, told the Forum newspaper. "He knew certain species were tracking temperature much better than other ones."

Travers has spent the past few years looking at Stevens' data as part of a worldwide study on how shifts in temperature affect the timing of when plants flower. He said the research, which involved 22 institutions on four continents, found that flowering and leafing times respond to change quicker than previously thought.

As the climate warms — spurred by natural factors or otherwise — spring comes earlier and late-summer plants wait longer to flower, Travers said. That can give some plants, particularly invasive species, an advantage.

"That's one of the things that we're curious about, is who's doing better and who's doing worse," Travers said, noting that the long-term outlook is not clear. "Is there a consequence to coming up earlier? Are they getting visited less by pollinators?"

The study was recently published in the journal Nature.

Travers said that Stevens' data offered an invaluable picture of the past.

"We need to know what these exact places were like 100 years ago. It's too late to start collecting that now," he said.

Travers said he and his colleagues are still looking for historical data, from handwritten notes of bygone botanists to shoeboxes of flowers people may have left behind in closets.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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