New research has unlocked the secrets of dried plants - offering a valuable insight to the potential effects of climate changeUnited Kingdom
A team including experts from the University of Sussex has proved that plants - some of which are 150 years old - can be used to help predict the future.
Professor Mike Hutchings from the University of Sussex said the team has "hit the jackpot".
He has been collecting data about the rare spider orchid for the past 35 years and as part of the new work combined that research with data collected from dried plants held in collections across the world.
His work established that a one degree rise in spring temperature meant that plants flowered six days earlier.
"The wonderful thing about it is that we have sort of hit the jackpot by showing exactly the same relationship which tells us that we can use these old dried specimens to predict how changes in the climate such as warming temperatures, especially in Spring, will influence these developmental events in the lives of plants," said Prof. Hutchings.
"In these dried specimens which were collected between 1850 and 1950, flowering became earlier by six days per one degree rise in spring temperature. Looking at the more recent data which I collected since 1975, we found exactly the same relationship."
The time that plants flower is crucial to the whole food chain - changes in timing can have severe consequences.
"If, for example, the flowering times of plants come forward and the developmental times of the insects that pollinate those plants don't come forward at the same rate, then the plants are going to be flowering out of synchrony with the insects that need to pollinate them,"
"Insects are interested in using the plants as sources of food which comes in the form of pollen or nectar. If the flowers have already gone past their flowering stage by the time that the insects are looking for food, then the insects won't get any food and they won't develop properly and the insects will also start to die out." said the professor.
His work has meant that those who study climate change now have a reliable source of long-term data . The fulkl team comprised experts from the University of Sussex, the University of Kent , the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew .
There are roughly 2.5 billion specimens of plants and animals stored worldwide in herbariums and museums. Some specimens date back to the time of Linnaeus , who devised the system of naming plants and animals 250 years ago.
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