Scientists have demonstrated that, in the face of climate change, alpine plant populations may sit at cliffs’ edge in more ways than one. Some plants initially compensate for the physiologically taxing effects of persistent warming with increased growth rates or expanded ranges. But new results from long-term studies show that even a gradual climate change can push a species past its tipping point, leading to a sudden population crash.

Determining where trade-offs and thresholds exist helps scientists better anticipate biological responses to climate change. Studies like this will help them predict which species may be able to adapt to increased temperatures and which may be most vulnerable.


The timing of seasonal events – phenology – is lending evidence of climate change impacts.  In this National Science Foundation report alpine flowers may bloom about two weeks earlier due to both warming and subtle genetic changes.  So what’s the big deal?  That change in flowering may be devastating to insects, birds of animals whose life cycles are in sync with the flowering times of the plant.  The use of phenology to study seasonal changes over time has resulted from the rich records of flowering events by both amateur and professional observers.

Capturing the timing of these seasonal events is the study of phenology. Well-known recorders include Gilbert White who noted events in 18th century Selborne, England and Henry David Thoreau who recorded in Concord, USA in the 19th century. Once, phenological records were perhaps simply considered interesting but of little other value. Now, long-term datasets of seasonal events are widely sought-after for their potential to reveal how the natural world responds to climate change. Historical records have been the subject of recent analysis and several phenological recording networks have been established or revitalized in response to this resurgence of interest.  Read more here.