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Am J Bot. 2006 Nov;93(11):1667-74. doi: 10.3732/ajb.93.11.1667.

Photographs and herbarium specimens as tools to document phenological changes in response to global warming.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215 USA.


Global warming is affecting natural systems across the world. Of the biological responses to warming, changes in the timing of phenological events such as flowering are among the most sensitive. Despite the recognized importance of phenological changes, the limited number of long-term records of phenological events has restricted research on the topic in most areas of the world. In a previous study in Boston (American Journal of Botany 91: 1260-1264), we used herbarium specimens and one season of field observations to show that plants flowered earlier as the climate warmed over the past 100 yr. In our new study, we found that two extra years of data did not strengthen the explanatory power of the analysis. Analysis of herbarium specimens without any field data yielded results similar to analyses that included field observations. In addition, we found that photographs of cultivated and wild plants in Massachusetts, data similar to that contained in herbarium specimens, show changes in flowering times that closely match independent data on the same species in the same locations. Dated photographs of plants in flower represent a new resource to extend the range of species and localities addressed in global-warming research.

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