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New Study: Herbarium Records Deepen Climate Research

October 9, 2015
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Herbarium specimens

A new study published today in the American Journal of Botany highlights the remarkable value of archived plant specimens in our understanding of seasonal and climate change.

The research team, which included HF Senior Ecologist Aaron Ellison, evaluated 20 plant species in Massachusetts, meticulously estimating first-flowering dates in herbarium specimens dating back to 1852. They found that their herbarium-based estimates faithfully reflect the actual first flowering dates observed and recorded in the field during those years.

In institutions across New England, there are far more herbarium specimens than observational records, representing a much wider range of climatic conditions - and these specimens are increasingly available digitally. 

The scientists already have plans for making good use of this valuable data resource. Co-authors Charles Davis and Charles Willis from Harvard University are creating a citizen science crowdsourcing platform (called Curio) to capture data from the ~1 million digitized specimens from New England herbaria, and plan to use these data to understand how plants have responded, and will respond, to climate change in the region.

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