Monday, March 15, 2010

Some long-term studies of the natural world

Some recent long-term, multi-decade studies have come to fruition:

Plants Take a Hike as Temperatures Rise (20 years of data)

Plants are flowering at higher elevations in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains as summer temperatures rise, according to new research from The University of Arizona.


To better understand how plants respond to climate change, Crimmins and her husband, UA climatologist Michael Crimmins, teamed up with naturalist Dave Bertelsen. He's been hiking the Finger Rock trail about one to two times a week since 1983 and recording what plants were in flower.

The five-mile hike starts in desert scrub vegetation and climbs 4158 feet (1,200 meters), ending in pine forest. Bertelsen has completed 1,206 round-trip hikes and recorded data along the trail for nearly 600 plant species, he said in an e-mail.

Birds Are Getting Smaller (46 years of data)

This may be a portent of global warming: a new paper in the bird journal Oikos, based on 46 (!) years of research, shows that migratory birds in the U.S. are getting smaller over time.

Thirty years on - the babies judged negatively by their mothers (30 years of data)

Elsie Broussard and Jude Cassidy recruited twenty-six adults in the area of Pittsburgh, whose mothers had signed up to a longitudinal study up to forty years earlier. Back then, in the 60s and 70s, the mothers had been asked to rate their one-month-old babies on factors like crying, spitting, sleeping, feeding and predictability, and then do the same for the 'average baby'. Twelve of the babies were judged to be at risk because their mothers had rated them more negatively than an average baby. Back to the present, and the researchers interviewed the adults using the Adult Attachment Interview, which includes questions about memories of their childhood, their memories of separation and loss and whether they felt affected by their parents' behaviour. Based on these kinds of questions, the participants were classified as being securely or insecurely attached, the latter classification suggesting that they have ongoing problems forming healthy emotional attachments to other people.


As with so many studies that look for effects of parenting on children, this study contains a serious confound that's barely touched upon by the researchers. The effects that Broussard and Cassidy attribute to parenting and attachment style could well be genetic. We're not surprised when the children of tall parents grow up to be tall. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the children of insecurely attached parents grow up to be insecurely attached themselves.