Climate Change Increases Proportion of Males in Plants with Separate Sexes, Posing Danger for Biological Communities
Plants affected may include asparagus, spinach, dates, mulberry and juniper.
August 02, 2016, Flagstaff, AZ – A paper published today by Nature Plants finds that climate change will result in more male plants in species with separate sexes, known as dioecious plants. This shift to a higher proportion of males for many dioecious plant species could be extreme, disrupting normal reproduction and affecting insect and other animal populations that depend on these plants.
“Our findings indicate that dioecious plants are more sensitive to the effects of climate change than other plant species,” said lead author Kevin Hultine, research ecologist at the Desert Botanical Garden and NAU adjunct professor. “We anticipate that females will die off at a higher rate as conditions become drier, which could result in extreme male-biased sex ratios for a significant number of populations.”
Researchers from Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Gardens, Northern Arizona University and the U.S. Geological Survey reviewed some 83 published studies to explore the effects of increased aridity on dioecious plant species. There are approximately 21,000 species of dioecious plants, examples of which include asparagus, spinach, dates, mulberry and juniper.
A Thousand Invisible Cords broadcast nationwide
A Thousand Invisible Cords: Connecting Genes to Ecosystems, a Northern Arizona University award-winning documentary, will be broadcast on more than 150 PBS television stations during the fall. The film will be shown in some of the country’s largest markets, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas and Phoenix. This documentary examines whether one gene in one plant or animal can change an entire ecosystem. The conclusion is surprising: “The effects of genes extend beyond the individual to have community and ecosystem consequences,” according to the documentary’s science advisor, Thomas Whitham, who is also a Regents’ Professor and the Executive Director of the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research.
Understanding the circle of life
Outcomes, the newsletter of NAU’s Research Division, highlighted the contributions of the Colorado Plateau Biodiversity Center in its fall 2012 edition. The article highlighted not only the value of the CPBC’s biological collections for students and the research community, but also the CPBC’s outreach activities. Additionally, the article provided a close-up look at efforts of the Deaver Herbarium. “If anyone is interested in plants and studying diversity, this is the place to do it,” said Tina Ayers, assistant biology professor and Deaver Herbarium curator. “Anybody can walk in here and ask, ‘What’s this?’ and we will help them.”
NSF grant to make Southwest arthropod collections more accessible
The Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) project brings together the Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity and nine other arthropod collections in the Southwest to create a virtual information network on ground-dwelling arthropods—ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders. SCAN received a three-year, $1.9 million grant through the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program in May 2012. This grant will allow the cooperating collections to create digital images of 15,000 specimens, develop new electronic identification techniques, and produce a virtual library with data for more than 750,000 specimens. The network will not only improve the understanding of arthropod biodiversity, but also help researchers detect changes in distribution as climate changes.
Ecosystem effects of biodiversity loss could rival impacts of climate change and pollution
Loss of biodiversity appears to impact ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution and other major forms of environmental stress, according to a research study published in the journal Nature. “It has been clear for some time that species loss affects ecosystems, but the impacts we found were very surprising,” said Bruce Hungate, co-author and director of the NAU Colorado Plateau Stable Isotope Laboratory.
$2.5 million grant funds garden array to study climate change effects
The National Science Foundation has awarded Northern Arizona University’s College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences a four-year, $2.5 million grant to create the Southwest Experimental Garden Array, or SEGA.
The garden array will be a system of 10 experimental gardens across northern Arizona that includes habitat types from desert to alpine forests. The gardens will be used to examine how climate change will affect the ecology and evolution of individual plant species, plant communities, and ecosystems.