DEN Project

Herbarium specimens and climate data…

Research published last week showed that herbarium specimens can hold valuable and reliable long term data on phenology (the timing of climatically driven events like plant flowering), in turn indicating how the natural world might respond to future changes in climate.

The research used 77 specimens of early spider orchids from herbarums at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and London’s Natural History Museum, alongside field observations collected between 1975 and 2006. Data from the specimens (relating to the date when the specimen was collected*) was matched against the Met Office’s historical records. Results showed that for every 1 degree Centigrade increase in the average spring temperature, the orchids flowered six days earlier.

One of the researchers Professor Davy (University of East Anglia) told the BBC, “There are huge collections in different museums and herbariums around the world; it is estimated that there are 2.5 billion specimens stored in these collections”.

This piece of research has shown the value of museum collections in documenting climate change. I hope that my own research will show that it is not just herbarium specimens which hold useful snippets of climatic data. Any suggestions of herbarium collections in the East Midlands that could be used in a similar way are appreciated!

*Plant collectors are assumed to have taken plants when the species were at their peak flowering, in order to provide the best taxonomic reference for the herbarium.

Research published in the Journal of Ecology.

BBC news piece on the research.

 

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