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Plants Feel the Impact as Temperatures Increase

As KSMU continues its focus on the environment this month, Michele Skalicky takes a look at changes in plant distribution as temperatures increase.

Dr. Michelle Bowe is an assistant biology professor at Missouri State University.

According to Bowe, studies have shown that there is a correlation between warmer temperatures and effects on vegetation.

One of the invasive plants she has a keen interest in is kudzu, a plant that's typically been associated with southern states.

But the vine has made its way to Southwest Missouri. In fact, Bowe has seen it in Northern Springfield. How did it make its way here? Dr. Bowe says that's a good question.

According to Bowe, cold will kill kudzu, so, as long as we continue to have relatively warm winters, it will survive and potentially move northward. And that's not a good thing.

According to Bowe, there are economic reasons why people should care if kudzu spreads. She says it serves as an alternate host for soybean rust.

And it's not just kudzu that Bowe's concerned about. She says foreign species, in general, tend to better with increased carbon dioxide and higher temperatures and could out-compete our native species.

Bowe says warmer temperatures year-round could cause plants to come out of dormancy sooner and that could spell trouble, as well.

She says some species may be lost because their pollinators aren't around when they need to be. According to Bowe, studies in Europe found that plants are blooming a week to two weeks earlier than they used to. Pollinators are hatching earlier, too, she says, but not necessarily soon enough.

And studies in Europe show that plants are moving northward. A study of 171 forest species in France shows that most of them are shifting their favored locations to higher, cooler spots. The leader of the study says for the first time, research can show the "fingerprints of climate change" in the distribution of plants by altitude, and not only in sensitive ecosystems.

The research reported in the journal Science compares the distribution between 1986 and 2005. It shows a shift upward of 95 feet per decade.

Herbs, ferns and mosses with shorter life spans and faster reproduction cycles were the quickest to move. Woody plants that reproduce more slowly were found to be the most vulnerable to climate change.

For KSMU News, I'm Michele Skalicky.