New research from a Florida State University scientist has revealed a surprising relationship between surging atmospheric carbon dioxide and flower blooms in a remote tropical forest.
FSU researchers studying the rich tropical forests of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island found that climbing rates of carbon dioxide have set the stage for a multidecade increase in overall flower production.
The findings were outlined in a paper published in the journal Global Change Biology.
BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS ARE FLOURISHING
“It’s really remarkable,” said Assistant Professor of Geography Stephanie Pau, who led the study. “Over the past several decades, we’ve seen temperatures warming and carbon dioxide increasing, and our study found that this tropical forest has responded to that increase by producing more flowers.”
Pau’s findings suggest that tropical forests, which have evolved over millennia to flourish in warm, equatorial conditions, may be more sensitive to subtle climatic changes than some ecologists predicted.
“Tropical forests have evolved in generally stable climates,” Pau said. “So while they may not be warming as much as some higher-latitude ecosystems, these tropical species appear to be much more sensitive than we might have expected.”
For this study, Pau evaluated a record of plant material collected and archived by researchers on the island over 28 years. She and her colleagues then examined how a host of climatic drivers — temperature, rainfall, light and carbon dioxide — appeared to affect the annual flowering activity and flowering duration of the different species present in the forest.
CARBON DIOXIDE MOST SIGNIFICANT FACTOR
During her investigation, one factor stood out among the rest.
“What we were able to do in this paper is ask why flower activity has been increasing over the long term,” Pau said. “We found that atmospheric carbon dioxide clearly seems to have had the largest effect on the increase in flowers.”
Stephanie Pau, Daniel K. Okamoto, Osvaldo Calderón, S. Joseph Wright. Long-term increases in tropical flowering activity across growth forms in response to rising CO2 and climate change. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14004