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Which plants will survive a warming climate?

NSF Award:

NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology for FY 2011  (Harsch Melanie A)

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A team of NSF-funded scientists has incorporated biological data into mathematical models to identify which plant species are more likely to survive in a rapidly warming climate. The team found that plants with shorter generation times, such as annuals, are more likely to survive, and that long-distance seed dispersal is not always beneficial.

In the future, if the warming rate increases, species previously able to track shifting climatic conditions may fail. Incorporating biological data into mathematical models allows researchers to understand the characteristics required to make species less vulnerable to local extinction.

Determining which species are at risk of extinction due to climate warming is challenging. Observed responses to past or current climate change are often used to forecast vulnerability, but may not hold in the future. Several factors could impact future extinction, risk including rapid future climate warming and insufficient time and money to monitor all species and evaluate their risk. 

However, when scientists from the Biology and Applied Mathematics Departments at the University of Washington collaborated, they were able to develop tools that explore species response to future climatic conditions based on key traits: dispersal ability, growth, survival and reproduction. Thus, the research increases our ability to generalize which species are most likely to go extinct as the rate of climate warming increases.


  • field of teasel in illinois
A field of teasel in Illinois.
Mark Kot, University of Washington

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