Henry David Thoreau as Climatologist: Scientists Use Field Notes Taken in 1851 to Track Plant Species Loss


Walden Pond at Sunrise, photo: Storm Crypt

It's not just tree rings, ice cores and satellite data that can provide a record of how the planet's climate has changed over the years, decades and centuries... The notes of American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, written during his two years spent living on Walden Pond, Massachusetts in preparation for a book on the seasons, are now being put to use by scientists tracking how climate changes have affected plant species in the region. Thoreau's notes from Walden began in 1851, just before the industrial revolution began to increase atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

The New York Times goes into more detail about both Thoreau's and the modern methodology involved, but this is the general conclusion:27% of Species Recorded in 1851 Have Vanished

On average, common species are flowering seven days earlier than they did in Thoreau's day, Richard B. Primack, a conservation biologist at Boston University, and Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, then his graduate student, reported this year in the journal Ecology. Working with Charles C. Davis, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard and two of his graduate students, they determined that 27 percent of the species documented by Thoreau have vanished from Concord and 36 percent are present in such small numbers that they probably will not survive for long.

More on deciphering Thoreau's tiny handwriting, why some of Concord's "most charismatic species" are vanishing, and the importance of preserving old manuscripts: A Modern Use for Thoreau's Notes on Flora
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Tags: Biodiversity | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Science | Massachusetts | United States

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