Phylogenetic patterns of species loss in Thoreau's woods are driven by climate change

Charles G. Willis, Brad Ruhfel, Richard B. Primack, Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, Charles C. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

377 Scopus citations


Climate change has led to major changes in the phenology (the timing of seasonal activities, such as flowering) of some species but not others. The extent to which flowering-time response to temperature is shared among closely related species might have important consequences for community-wide patterns of species loss under rapid climate change. Henry David Thoreau initiated a dataset of the Concord, Massachusetts, flora that spans ≈150 years and provides information on changes in species abundance and flowering time. When these data are analyzed in a phylogenetic context, they indicate that change in abundance is strongly correlated with flowering-time response. Species that do not respond to temperature have decreased greatly in abundance, and include among others anemones and buttercups [Ranunculaceae pro parte (p.p.)], asters and campanulas (Asterales), bluets (Rubiaceae p.p.), bladderworts (Lentibulariaceae), dogwoods (Cornaceae), lilies (Liliales), mints (Lamiaceae p.p.), orchids (Orchidaceae), roses (Rosaceae p.p.), saxifrages (Saxifragales), and violets (Malpighiales). Because flowering-time response traits are shared among closely related species, our findings suggest that climate change has affected and will likely continue to shape the phylogenetically biased pattern of species loss in Thoreau's woods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17029-17033
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 4 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation
  • Extinction
  • Phenology
  • Phylogenetic conservatism
  • Phylogeny

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