Plants and climate change

Human-induced global warming will significantly threaten levels of biodiversity, potentially leading to loss of biological resources, environmental services and ecosystem function. The importance of biodiversity as the natural framework underpinning social and economic sustainability is internationally recognized and was legally ratified by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD Secretariat, 2007) and its lower-level frameworks (Europa, 2007; UK Biodiversity Action Plan, 2007). Biodiversity science provides a fundamental link between the physical process of climate change and the subsequent impacts on social and economic well-being.

RBGE research uses statistical models to predict the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (e.g. the response of species to IPCC scenarios) indicating which species or vegetation types may be threatened by climate change and should be closely monitored or protected (e.g. by translocation or the mitigation of other stresses).

Monitoring the response of sensitive elements of Scottish biodiversity to climate change provides a robust measure of change in the flora, and identifies opportunities for mitigation. Monitoring also provides data to verify model projections and thereby calibrate and improve their predictive ability.

The impact of climate change on biodiversity is also determined by population genetic processes (e.g. metapopulation dynamics; ability to migrate through fragmented landscapes; potential for genetic adaptation to different climates).

Our current research includes:

Furthermore, RBGE occasionally hosts projects for Edinburgh University School of GeoSciences.

Other resources

RBGE also provides indirect though important contributions to climate change science, for example:

Archives: RBGE photographic archives have been used by international scientists in time series studies examining landscape change (e.g. the altitudinal migration of floristic zones, or shifts in glacial features). Such studies include scientists from the Joint Nature Conservancy Council (UK) and Lakehead University (Ontario, Canada), and Kunming Institute of Botany. The archives also house a massive amount of phenological data (1906-1939) which has been extracted and examined by University of Edinburgh researchers.

The Herbarium: Herbarium specimens preserve the develpomental stages of a plant from its location at the time of collection, thus allowing to make assessments of changes in the climatic conditions at the location, compared with other locations and other times of collection. Several international projects have had input from RBGE's herbarium collections.

Diatoms: RBGE undertakes fundamental research in the systematics and identification of diatoms. Diatoms are photosynthesising, microscopic algae; they have a siliceous skeleton and are found in almost every aquatic environment including fresh and marine waters and soils. Diatoms provide one of the most powerful palaeoenvironmental indicators and are used in palaeoclimatic studies to provide knowledge of the climate system. Principal palaeoresearch groups both in the UK and internationally consult with the taxonomic work carried out at RBGE, in order to resolve and interpret palaeoenvironmental records.

Education: Climate change is a rapidly developing theme in RBGE's programme of education and public outreach. With its popularity and range of visitors, RBGE is uniquely placed to engage in wider public education and discussion on climate change issues. The Gateway Project under development will include as part of its major thematic events and exhibitions: ‘Climate Change - Scotland' and ‘Climate Change - Global'.

updated 24 February 2016

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