Lecture 2 of 5 recorded

Alison Donnelly presents: What Plants Can Tell Us About Climate Warming

Alison Donnelly carried out the research for her Ph.D. in Trinity College Dublin and at the Teagasc research station in Oak Park Carlow. She focused on the impact of carbon dioxide and ozone on the yield of wheat. This led directly to a position in Nottingham University where she investigated the impact of greenhouse gases on potato yields. From there, she returned to Ireland to work on a range of environmental issues, one of which focused on developing climate change indicators where she developed an interest in phenology. She is currently a research lecturer in the Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin where she leads the phenology research group. Her main research interests are in determining the impact of climate warming on the timing of phenology of plant and animal species in Ireland.

It is well established that the average temperature of our planet has risen by approximately 0.7°C over the past century and that this increase was primarily due to human activity. What interests Alison is whether or not wecan detect a response to this apparently small rise in temperature in local plant-life. In order to address this issue, Alison and her team examined historical records of the timing of plant development stages (phenology) that are triggered by temperature. When spring temperature is warmer than average, due to climate change for example, we expect bud burst on trees to occur earlier in the season. Alison examined the date of bud burst on a number of tree species over a 40-year period and concluded that this phenological event is occurring earlier now than 40 years ago. In addition, she showed that the main driver of this earlier trend was a rise in average spring temperature in Ireland. In order to examine the impact of warming on herbaceous plants and shrubs in the Arctic, Alison joined a research team in Greenland to investigate whether rising temperature had an impact on plant emergence. Again they showed that an increase in temperature advanced emergence. This trend towards earlier phenology in plants will have implications for other species, which depend upon these plants as a food supply. If the food supply (plants/leaves) is available before it is required by the herbivores (caterpillars/calves) a mismatch in timing between interdependent species may occur.

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