There is almost nothing quite as intriguing and interesting as learning of a new experiment. And while Bunsen burners and the like may be OK for some of you, for me, get me outside and in some dirt any day.
A new experiment, being conducted at Imperial College London’s Silwood Park campus in Berkshire, will attempt to determine how the British plant ecosystem will be affected by future changes to climate and biodiversity.
With this experiment, however, there will be no computer simulations. Instead, scientists and researchers will be conducting the experiment outside, with 168 plots of grassland ecosystem at their fingertips. This will give a clear insight into how the ecosystems will hold up under a variety of different situations.
“Ecosystems will be facing a multitude of challenges in the coming years,” said Dr Sally Power from Imperial’s Division of Biology. “Changing rainfall patterns are likely to affect the ability of ecosystems to perform important ecological functions such as nutrient cycling; a key challenge is now to understand the implications of biodiversity loss for ecosystem functioning and the sustainability of these functions in a changing climate.”
The experiment will comprise of 168 rain shelters, each one covering a plot 2.4 meters by 2.4 meters, within a grassland ecosystem. Throughout the summer, to enable scientists to accurately control the amount of rainwater specified for the tests, the shelters will remain on. Some of these plots will receive natural levels of rainfall, and others will receive levels more consistent with the IPCC’s predictions for southern England, suggesting that the summer rainfall will decrease 30% and its winter rainfall will increase 15%. During the winter, the shelters will be removed and will be given extra water to reflect the anticipated rise.
Another aspect of the experiment includes examining the extent to which climate-driven effects will be modified by changes in the plant diversity. Subsequently, researchers have manipulated the biodiversity of some of the plants, to reflect differing values of plant trait diversity, such as root length, nutrient uptake and photosynthesis rate.
“Because this experiment tackles the issues of summer droughts and winter floods in a full ecosystem context,” said Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial, “but one with decreasing plant trait biodiversity all at the same time, means that it promises one of the most realistic pictures to date of how ecosystems in the UK may react to the environmental changes caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”
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