Climate change aids invasive plants

Feb. 9, 2010 at 8:28 AM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Harvard University scientists say they've determined invasive plants could become more prevalent and destructive as climate change continues.

The scientists, led by Assistant Professor Charles Davis, said they analyzed more than 150 years of data and discovered non-native plants, especially invasive species, appear to thrive during times of climate change because they're better able to adjust the timing of annual activities, such as flowering and fruiting.

"These results demonstrate for the first time that climate change likely plays a direct role in promoting non-native species success," Davis said. "Secondly, they highlight the importance of flowering time as a trait that may facilitate the success of non-native species."

Davis and his colleagues said they analyzed a dataset that began with Henry David Thoreau's cataloging of plants around Walden Pond during the 1850s. Since then, the mean annual temperature in the vicinity of Concord, Mass., has increased by 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit, causing some plants to shift their flowering time by as much as three weeks in response to ever-earlier spring thaws, the scientists said.

"We set out to use this dataset to examine which plants have been the beneficiaries of climate change," Davis says. "Our research suggests quite decisively that non-native and invasive species have been the climate change winners. Climate change will lead to an as-yet unknown shuffling of species, and it appears that invasive species will become more dominant."

The research appears in the online journal PLoS One.

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