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Ecological Study Based on Thoreau's Writing Offers Template for Using Historical Data to Study Climate Change

Also in the current issue of BioScience, BU biologist Richard Primack outlines how historical records can be used to measure climate change going back at least as far as the 19th century.

Primack and co-author Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, science coordinator at the Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Education and Research Center, National Park Service, show how unconventional sources of data, including historical documents, are an important resource for understanding the biological impacts of climate change. Such records include naturalists’ journals, club and field station records, museum specimens, photographs, and scientific research. Primack and Miller-Rushing explain that finding records and overcoming their limitations are serious challenges to climate change research. In the present article, the authors describe their efforts to locate data from Concord, Massachusetts, and provide a template that can be replicated in other locations. Analyses of diverse data sources, including observations made in the 1850s by Henry David Thoreau, indicate that climate change is affecting the timing of flowering and bird migration, and even the presence and abundance of wildflower species in Concord.

Primack and Miller-Rushing note that despite recent work on historical records, many sources of historical data are underutilized. Analyses of these data may provide insights into climate change impacts and techniques to manage them. Moreover, the results are useful for communicating local examples of changing climate conditions to the public.

The article, “Uncovering, Collecting, and Analyzing Records to Investigate the Ecological Impacts of Climate Change: A Template from Thoreau’s Concord,” appears in the current issue of the journal BioScience (February 2012/Vol. 62 No. 2;

To read the article, visit the CAS website.

Return to the February 2012 Newsletter

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