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Arizona plants heading upslope.

A study that compared plant communities today with a survey made 50 years ago has provided the first on-the-ground evidence of plants in the southwestern USA being pushed to higher elevations by an increasingly warmer and drier climate.

A University of Arizona-led research team studied the current plant communities along the Catalina Highway, which winds from low-lying desert to the top of Mount Lemmon, the tallest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains, northeast of Tucson. In 1963, Robert H Whittaker, often referred to as the 'father of modern plant ecology', and his colleague William Niering catalogued the plants they encountered along the highway, providing an opportunity for a 'before and after' comparison.

The team focused on the 27 most abundantly catalogued plant species. They found that three quarters of them have shifted their range significantly upslope, in some cases by as much as 500 metres, or now grow in a narrower elevation range. The lowermost boundaries for 15 of the species studied have moved upslope; eight now first appear more than 240 metres higher than where Whittaker and Niering first encountered them.

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Title Annotation:WORLDWATCH
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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