Chicago Botanic Garden

Plant Biology

PHOTO: flowers blooming in winter

Climate Change

Each day brings another dismal report about global climate change. Indeed, research demonstrates that changes in climate are affecting physical and biological systems on every continent and that climate change is “very likely” due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that if temperatures rise approximately two to four degrees Fahrenheit, one-third of species will be lost from their current range.

The global plant conservation community gathered in 2006 at a workshop to discuss a response to climate change. The resulting document, “Gran Canaria Declaration on Climate Change and Plant Conservation," outlines actions that can be taken by botanic gardens and similar institutions. The declaration recognizes the role of botanic gardens in public education to more than 200 million visitors annually and in seed banking and other conservation measures for plant species most likely to be affected by climate change.

Chicago Botanic Garden visitors participate in Project BudBurst, a national citizen science effort to track how and when plants flower (phenology). In response to warmer temperatures, many are flowering earlier. Tracking plant phenology will help scientists understand how plants will respond to future climate changes. Scientists and volunteers also are storing seeds through seed banking programs. Banked seeds may be used in the future to restore depleted or lost plant populations.