Washington State Magazine

Winter 2008


Winter 2008

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In This Issue...

Features

On the waterfront: Tacoma's past may be a key to its future Twenty years ago, the City Club of Tacoma approached the city with a plan to unify the waterfront and build a walking path from the Tacoma Dome to Point Defiance. The painstakingly researched report urged that the entire waterfront be redesigned as a people place. Lara Hermann '95 was thrilled when a city hall worker handed her the document. "It was like a present just lands in your lap," she says. by Hannelore Sudermann; Photos by Ingrid Barrentine { WEB EXCLUSIVE–COORDINATES: Tacoma's Waterfront. An interactive map and photo gallery. View photographer Ingrid Barrentine's images along the Tacoma waterfront. }

Fine Specimens Washington State University is home to three superb research collections, all begun soon after the young agricultural college opened its doors. What makes them research collections, says Ownbey Herbarium director Larry Hufford, is "sheer numbers." The Conner Zoology Museum has about 69,000 specimens, the Herbarium about 375,000, and the James Entomology Collection more than 1.25 million. These numbers make WSU's collections among the best in the nation. by Cherie Winner { WEB EXCLUSIVES: Videos and stories }

Rethinking the fundamentals Feeding the world may require us to use old knowledge in new ways. Although the prices of fuel and commodities have dropped since early summer, the volatility of their relationship will surely dog us for the foreseeable future. While stock prices may temporarily overshadow food prices in the public consciousness, some farmers and researchers are looking at different ways of doing business, perhaps moving the land-grant university back to its founding purpose. by Tim Steury

L'Américain en Provence A story about an expatriate—and about his wine. Provence is a world away from Bellevue, where Denis Gayte '97 grew up. And French winemaking is another world away from the public relations career he abandoned. So there he was, with his French heritage and a newly minted "young French winemaker" degree—but still referred to (and always affectionately) as l'Américain. by Andrea Vogt

Panoramas

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Afghanistan success story - a gallery }

Departments

:: FIRST WORDS

:: SPORTS: Unstoppable Rueben Mayes

:: LAST WORDS: Murrow's door

:: LETTERS

:: IN SEASON: A Season for Seeds

{ WEB EXCLUSIVESVideo: "This is W.S.C." - A movie introducing Washington State College in 1952, narrated by Edward R. Murrow. }

Tracking

Cover illustration: Marbled murrelets take flight, by Darlene McElroy.

Winter 2008
Web Exclusives

Coping with Climate Change

by Cherie Winner | © Washington State University

Several years ago, scientists noticed that recent herbarium specimens had been collected earlier in the season than specimens from decades past. Since most plants are collected when they are in flower, that meant they were flowering earlier. The easy explanation was that they were responding to the warmer temperatures caused by climate change. The trouble with that, says Larry Hufford, is that it didn't happen with every species.

He searched the Herbarium's database for the first date of collection for several plants common in eastern Washington, and found that the habitat a species lives in may be a factor in whether the plant is now blooming earlier than it did 100 years ago. Those in open areas, where the soil warms up sooner, are flowering as much as 2 months earlier. Those in sheltered woodland areas haven't changed their flowering time.

But habitat was not the only factor affecting whether a species has changed its flowering time. The plant's own life history pattern affects how the plant copes, or doesn't cope, with environmental change. Hufford says many plants develop large underground storage structures to hold nutrients and moisture through the long dry season. That's especially true in grasslands such as the Palouse. Such plants also make their flower and leaf buds underground, one or two years before the season when they will emerge.

"Those that are sitting underground may be especially responsive to what's happening at ground level--to the onset of warmth and moisture," says Hufford. Since their buds are already made and ready to go, they can respond right away when the soil warms up in spring, whether that occurs at the same time it did in years past, or weeks earlier.

With other plants, flowering is triggered by day length. It's not affected by temperature (other than a hard freeze). Those species could be especially vulnerable to a warming environment, says Hufford. If their reliance on day length prevents them from blooming earlier, their flowers could end up getting fried by heat and drought, or they may appear too late for the insects that should pollinate them, because the insects will have been active earlier. A daylight-responsive species might fare OK if it can disperse its seeds to cooler habitats (farther north or at higher altitude), but many species don't have that ability.

What that may mean, says Hufford, is that some species of plants are not going to cope well with climate change.

"We anticipate that some things will adapt and survive; others will migrate and survive; and those that can't migrate or can't evolve are going to go extinct," he says.

Categories: Biological sciences, Botany | Tags: Museums, Herbarium