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The effect of climate change on plants

Scientific context

The world's climate is being changed due to human activities inadvertently leading to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Globally air temperatures are increasing at 0.7oC per century. These changes are inevitably leading to more and more world records being set. For example, 1998 was the warmest year of the millennium, while 2001 was the warmest (non El-Nino year) since 1000 AD. However the likely impact of global warming on plants and ecosystems remains poorly understood. It has recently been realised that historical records of the year-by-year behaviour of plants can provide valuable measures of a plant's sensitivity to climate change. Edinburgh has one of the oldest records of flowering (first begun in 1850 by James McNab) of any garden in the world. Studies suggest that around two thirds of the Edinburgh plants are sensitive to temperature.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Environmental Geoscience students (Tom Jilbert and Libby Eva) record the number of flowers on individually tagged stems of Saponaria officinalis l. (Accession number 19699743) as part of their final year project. Their work helped to build up a picture of the rate of plant development at during 2002.


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