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Rocky Mountain wildflowers blooming patterns changing

  • Written by  Harley Rustad
  • Published in Mountains
Wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA Wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA Shutterstock
01 May
Unique study of blooming patterns of high-altitude wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains shows the plants’ response to climate change is more complex than previously believed

The 39-year study, conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland, provided data on more than two million wildflowers. By examining the data for the 60 most common species, the researchers found that first blooming dates have advanced by an average of more than six days per decade, and that on average, the plants reached their peak bloom five days earlier each decade. ‘The flowering season is about one month longer than it used to be, which is a big change for a mountain ecosystem with a short growing season,’ said Amy Iler, one of the study’s co-authors.

The researchers raised concerns about the impact that these changes could have on the pollinating insects and birds that rely on the flowers for food. For example, hummingbirds that nest in the area in summer attempt to synchronise hatching with peak bloom, in order to ensure that there is plenty of nectar available for their chicks. But although the bloom season has lengthened, the plants aren’t producing more flowers – rather, the same number of blooms is spread out over longer, potentially reducing the number of flowers present at peak bloom.

This story was published in the May 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine


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