How Plant Species Will React to Environmental Changes Caused by Humans

First Posted: Dec 22, 2015 11:21 AM EST

How will plant species react to environmental change? Scientists have now used a "botanical big data" approach to predict exactly that in a new study that looks at human-induced disturbances.

There are over 300,000 plant species in the world. Although this number is large, researchers have used a database that includes 418 different species and the details of their survival, growth and reproductive information. This database, in particular, helped researchers delve into how these plants may respond to human-caused change.

"We are digging for answers to some of the most important questions facing a world increasingly affected by human population growth and changing climate, and knowing how species are likely to react to these changes is vital if we are to effectively conserve biodiversity, protect and promote species that we value, and control the damaging species," said Yvonne Buckley, one of the researchers, in a news release.

In this case, the researchers found that they could explain a large amount of variation in the way of plant life by looking at only two key characteristics: how fast plants grow vs. how well they survive, and how often, how much, and for how long they reproduce.

"Our analysis shows that plants like the wild daffodil may be vulnerable to decline in the wild and that it may not be able to recover quickly after damaging environmental change," said Buckley. "Our new categorization of the plant kingdom will make these kinds of predictions faster and more accurate, enabling us to manage species before they disappear."

The findings could help researchers address important questions in the fields of conservation biology, ecology and evolution. More specifically, it shows what may be in store in the future as changes continue in the environment.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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