Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ginkgo Nuts, Biodiversity and Climate Change

Some twenty five or so years ago I got some ginkgo nuts from the New York Botanical Garden. I planted them and last year one of the trees, a female, was filled with nuts. Fantastic. The squirrels did not seem to have any interest, smelly seed coats, but well that was not the end. Come Spring, the coat had gone and the squirrels managed to consume every one! The ginkgo has managed to survive some 100 million plus years but it had not faced the squirrel.

Now as we go further north we see the grey squirrel also going there as the warming occurs and thus many flora that were dependent on small consumption by red squirrels will be under siege by grey ones. The issue of changing and complex biodiversity means that there will be challenges to flora and fauna.

I make this comment because I have read a paper by Dr. Victoria Karchenko at The Botanical Garden Institute in Vladivostok where she states:

Now the climate changes become more pronounced. This affects to biodiversity and distribution of plants. Therefore, we need to study of the biodiversity and trends distribution of plants in specific environments. In this connection is necessary to clarify real composition of species in the of regional floras potential of their variability of and disseminating. A pressing problem remains the creation of a unified database of the flora of Russia, which takes into account the data of regional studies.  Research program allows executing posed problems if it would coordinate with other botanical gardens. This program will allow revealing structural and functional adaptation of species to various environmental conditions. This will help create a basis for design ways to regulation the development of plants and biotops.

As I had indicated, the paper by Dr. Kharchenko presents a very compelling argument for the development of a detailed flora for Russia especially the Eastern parts. We have been using certain sentinel plants such as Hemerocallis which are native to this part of Russia to measure long term climate changes. It is essential to have a detailed data base not only of the flora per se but more importantly an understanding of their propagation status based upon the balance with pollinators as well as fauna which may consume the plants before they can complete their re population cycle. We have seen not only a shift in bloom time and divergence with pollinators but more importantly animal predators on plants growing in numbers. This is a critical study especially in this highly bio-diverse area.

Eastern Russia is an relatively unexplored treasure trove of biological species. Many of my Hemerocallis are from there and there are still new species of that genus being discovered. However there may have been a balance in biodiversity for millennium but as we see warming we would expect drastic changes. To understand the changes we need a baseline and the proposal to establish such a well defined baseline is essential. There clearly should be substantial support for this effort, since one would expect the time scale for change to be quite short.