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Warming alters mountain plant’s sex ratios

Mid-elevation male-female balance now shifted to higher altitudes, study finds

6:04pm, June 30, 2016
Valerian plant

MOUNTAIN CLIMBER  Male valerian plants like this one have moved up in elevation in response to hotter, drier climate conditions. As a result, male-female plant ratios have changed since the late 1970s, researchers have found. This plant is growing in the research team’s highest study site, at 3,790 meters.

In Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, male and female valerian plants have responded differently to hotter, drier conditions, a new study shows. Rapidly changing ratios of the sexes could be a quick sign of climate change, the researchers say.

Valerian (Valeriana edulis) plants range from hot, scrubby lowlands to cold alpine slopes. In each patch of plants, some are male and some are female. The exact proportion of each sex varies with elevation. High on the mountain, females are much more common than males; they can make up 80 percent of some populations.

Four decades ago, in patches of valerian growing in the middle of the plant’s elevation range, 33.4 percent of the plants were males. Those patches grew in the Rockies at elevations around 3,000 meters. Today, you would have to hike considerably higher to find the same proportion of male plants. Males, now 5.5 percent more common on average, are

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