Article ID: CBB311382906

Wild Laboratories of Climate Change: Plants, Phenology, and Global Warming, 1955–1980 (2021)


Phenologists track the seasonal behavior of plants and animals in response to climatic change. During the second half of the twentieth century, phenologists developed a large-scale project to monitor the flowering time of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) across the United States. By the 1960s, this approach offered a potential plant-based indicator of anthropogenic climate change, a biological signal amidst the emerging narrative of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. As a tangible representation of changes in climate—warmer temperatures lead to earlier blooming—phenology proved highly legible to scientists, politicians, and laypeople. Yet, as phenology gained broader repute in the 1960s, both in agricultural stations and as a component program of the International Biological Program (IBP), it struggled to align itself epistemically with the regnant disciplinary assumptions of mid-century ecology. Operating in the hinterlands between laboratory and field, biology and meteorology, ecological theory and agronomy practice, phenologists challenged prevailing notions of the model organism and what it meant to study biology in the field. Rebranding the discipline as a component of ecosystem modeling, scientists successfully brought phenology within the purview of mainstream ecology. In so doing, however, they obscured its climate-relevant meteorological character and stymied the development of a biological narrative of climate change.

Associated with

Article R. Ashton Macfarlane (2021) Correction to: Wild Laboratories of Climate Change: Plants, Phenology, and Global Warming, 1955–1980. Journal of the History of Biology (pp. 341-342). unapi

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Rodriguez-Buritica, Susana; Raichle, Helen; Birt, Trevor; Webb, Robert H.; Turner, Raymond M.; Pierson, Elizabeth A.; Venable, D. Lawrence; (2013)
Population Dynamics of Sonoran Desert Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea) at the Desert Laboratory (Tucson, Arizona) (/isis/citation/CBB001421423/)

Article Whitfield, John; (2013)
Superstars of Botany: Rare Specimens (/isis/citation/CBB001320426/)

Article Conner, William E.; (2013)
An Acoustic Arms Race (/isis/citation/CBB001320843/)

Article James Lawrence Powell; (2015)
Climate Scientists Virtually Unanimous Anthropogenic Global Warming Is True (/isis/citation/CBB598642286/)

Article Joseph Giacomelli; (2018)
The Meaning of Uncertainty: Debating Climate Change in the Gilded-Age United States (/isis/citation/CBB368622969/)

Thesis Michael Verderame; (2017)
Science, Politics, and Soul-Making: The Romantic Encounter with Climate Change (/isis/citation/CBB568976028/)

Article Korobov, Dmitry S.; Borisov, Alexander V.; (2013)
The Origins of Terraced Field Agriculture in the Caucasus: New Discoveries in the Kislovodsk Basin (/isis/citation/CBB001321030/)

Article Green Musselman, Elizabeth; (2003)
Plant Knowledge at the Cape: A Study in African and European Collaboration (/isis/citation/CBB000401045/)

Book Lawson, Russell M.; (2012)
Frontier Naturalist: Jean Louis Berlandier and the Exploration of Northern Mexico and Texas (/isis/citation/CBB001202063/)

Article Susanne S. Renner; Ulrich Päßler; Pierre Moret; (2023)
“My Reputation is at Stake.” Humboldt's Mountain Plant Geography in the Making (1803–1825) (/isis/citation/CBB292201714/)

Article Baytop, Asuman; (2012)
Anadolu'nun dar bir yöresinden örnek toplam bitki toplay c lar (/isis/citation/CBB001320512/)

Article Burgis, Mary J.; Dunn, Ian; (2012)
Archives from Central Office of the International Biological Programme, 1964--74 (/isis/citation/CBB001251454/)

Article John Edmondson; (2018)
Charles Deering (c. 1690–1749): Author of an Early Flora of Nottingham (/isis/citation/CBB389369282/)

Authors & Contributors
Marin, Noemi
Ulrich Päßler
Brooten, Gary
Lidwell-Durnin, John
Verderame, Michael
Giacomelli, Joseph Nereo
Social Studies of Science
Journal of the History of Biology
Osmanli Bilimi Arastirmalari: Studies in Ottoman Science
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
International Journal of African Historical Studies
Florida Atlantic University
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of New Mexico Press
Plant geography; flora
Climate change
Field work
Anthropogenic global warming
Charles Deering
Berlandier, Jean Luis
Revelle, Roger
Ray, John
Martyn, John
Knight, Thomas Andrew
Time Periods
20th century, late
19th century
21st century
20th century, early
18th century
Gilded Age (1870s-1900)
Great Britain
Cape of Good Hope (South Africa)
Anatolia (Turkey)
Arizona (U.S.)
South America
United States
International Biological Program
Royal Botanical Society, London
International Geophysical Year (IGY)
Carnegie Institution of Washington

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment