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Go orchid spotting to map climate change

Date: 19/05/2015

Nature lovers around the UK are being called on to help scientists track orchid flowering times as they bloom this spring and summer. The Orchid Observers project will study how climate change is affecting these fascinating plants.

Orchids are found on every major land mass except Antarctica, with more than 50 species in the UK. Recent research indicates that their flowering times are shifting in response to climate change. Understanding this in more detail could help researchers predict how a changing climate may affect other species, and whole ecosystems.

Orchid Observers asks nature fans and photographers alike to take pictures of orchids from across the UK and contribute their images to the programme’s website. Participants not lucky enough to find wild orchids can still help by extracting flowering details from orchids in the Museum’s historic collections, and identifying orchid photos uploaded by others.

Combining modern observations with historical records will give scientists information spanning roughly 180 years, which can be compared against UK climate records from the same period.

Orchid Observers is being developed by the Natural History Museum in collaboration with Zooniverse (University of Oxford) and the AHRC-funded Science in Culture project Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries. Zooniverse Principal Investigator Professor Chris Lintott said, ‘The project engages volunteers with how the environment around us is changing, and we hope that the combination of modern photography and beautiful historical documents will encourage everyone to get involved’.

Dr Mark Spencer, a Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum and Orchid Observers lead scientist, said “Orchids are much loved and charismatic plants, some of which are declining – even in protected sites. Understanding how changes in the environment are affecting orchids may help us plan and protect key populations and areas.”

Green-winged orchid - Anacamptis morio. Image copyright Mike Wallker and the Natural History Museum, London.

The results from the Orchid Observers programme could inform future research on how climate change affects not just individual species, but whole ecosystems. ”A major concern is that certain species that are dependent upon others may not be responding in the same manner or at the same pace,” Dr Spencer said.

For example, a recent study showed that Blue Tit chicks are hatching at times that are increasingly different from the emergence and peak abundance of caterpillars, their main food source.

Dr John Tweddle, project lead and Head of the Natural History Museum’s Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, said, ”Environmental change is one of the biggest threats facing British wildlife. Understanding how it is affecting our plants and animals is a key scientific challenge that will in turn help us to predict the impacts of future change.”

Notes to editors

  • The Orchid Observers website can be found at www.orchidobservers.org. There is also a page on the Natural History Museum’s website at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/take-part/citizen-science/orchid-observers.html.
  • The Natural History Museum welcomes more than five million visitors a year and is a world-leading science research centre. Through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling the biggest challenges facing the world today. It helps enable food security, eradicate disease and manage resource scarcity. It is studying the diversity of life and the delicate balance of ecosystems to ensure the survival of our planet. For more information go to www.nhm.ac.uk
  • The Zooniverse was founded in 2007 with a single project, Galaxy Zoo, but now encompasses more than 30 projects in subjects from papyrology to particle physics. The Orchid Observers project was part of a collaboration between the Museum, the Zooniverse and historians in Oxford and Leicester who are studying the development of scientific communities in the 19th century.
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class research in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and many more. Each year the AHRC spends approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training often in collaboration with partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of publicfundsprovide considerable economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk
  • Find out more about the AHRC’s Science in Culture theme. Further information about existing projects is available from the Science in Culture theme website: www.sciculture.ac.uk

For further information, please contact the Natural History Museum Press Office: Tel: 020 7942 5654 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk

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