Research conducted on the Rocky Mountains in western North America has shown that due to warmer springs, snow is gone sooner than before, due to which fewer flowers are blooming in the region.
Conducted by David Inouye from the University of Maryland, the research used data gathered in the Rockies from 1973 to the present to uncover the problem.
For the research, Inouye looked at three blossoms that are common to the famous mountain range. He demonstrated that these three flowers found in the Rockies are far more susceptible to late frost damage when the snow melts more quickly.
The three flowers in question are the Larkspur, Aspen fleabane and aspen sunflowers. Winter snow can be as deep as eight feet in the area where all three of these flowers grow, at 9,500 feet altitude, but the snow has been melting increasing early over the past decade because of a combination of lower snowfall and warmer springs. For the wildflower, earlier snowmelt results in an earlier growing season.
Once the snow is gone in the spring, the flowers begin to form buds and prepare to flower. But masses of cold air can still move through the region at night, causing frost as late as the month of June.
The numbers indicate that frost events have increased in the past decade. From 1992 to 1998, on average 36.1 percent of the aspen sunflower buds were frosted. But for 1999-2000, the mean is 73.9 percent, and in only one year since 1998 have plants escaped all frost damage. When those frost events occur, the long-lived plants do not die but are unable to produce flowers for that entire year. Without flowers, they cannot set seed and reproduce.
According to Inouye, the change happening here may be undetected by humans casually observing the area because these are all long-lived perennial plants.
"But we find that these perennials are not producing enough seeds to make the next generation of plants, and without new plants the transformations within plant and animal communities of this ecosystem could be quite intense," he said. "In the future, we anticipate climate change will affect plants and animals in many ways, but information is needed on how those changes will play out for specific plants," he added.