Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Arctic plants, frequent flyers?

The Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) emigrated to Svalbard from Russia.

If the climate gets too warm or cold, an animal can walk, fly or swim to a more comfortable habitat. But what about a plant?

The White Arctic Bell-heather (The White Arctic Bell-heather (Cassiope tetragona) emigrated to Svalbard from Greenland.)

Although an individual plant is typically stuck in the same place for life, new research suggests that some plant seeds can travel long distances, allowing a plant species to move into a new area.

This is good news, since researchers have been concerned about how climate warming will affect the world's plants. Scientists haven't known much about plant species' ability to travel long distances, and they've generally assumed that it doesn't happen very often.

Inger Greve Alsos of the University of Oslo and colleagues studied nine different species of flowering plants on the remote Arctic island chain of Svalbard, which is about halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

In a study published in the 15 June issue of the journal Science, the researchers report found that these plants have migrated, probably via wind or sea ice, from several different areas including Russia and Greenland. What's more, these species seem to have migrated to Svalbard multiple times over the last 20,000 years.

Because these plants appear to be such frequent flyers (or riders), the researchers think that at last some plant should be able to migrate easily in response to climate change, as long as the right habitat is available.