Climate change simulations may predict which animals and plants can adapt and how scientists can help
High in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, mustard plants slumber through the winter in snow-covered meadows. When spring finally reveals these hardy perennials, the plants reach for the sky, unveiling tiny pink or white flowers.
This annual rebirth is timed to the snowmelt, and as warmer temperatures have moved melting earlier and earlier in the year, this particular mustard, known as Drummond’s rock cress (Boechera stricta), has followed. The herb’s trumpetlike flowers now bloom about 13 days earlier than they did four decades ago. For a plant that flowers for at most 30 days a year, says University of South Carolina plant ecologist Jill Anderson, “that’s an enormous change.”
Drummond’s rock cress also responded to warming temperatures around 20,000 years ago, pushing its way north and up the sides of mountains after glaciers began retreating. In a relatively short time, geologically speaking, this little flower spread and