News / USA

Climate-Controlled Time Machine Tests Prairie Future

Researchers want to see what happens to biodiversity as the climate warms

University of Oregon professor Bart Johnson counts plants at a research plot near Rainier, Washington.
University of Oregon professor Bart Johnson counts plants at a research plot near Rainier, Washington.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

Researchers from the University of Oregon have set up a kind of time machine to test how a warmer climate might affect grasslands and prairies around the world.

Today, grasslands cover between 25 and 40 percent of the earth's land surface. The researchers want to see what happens to biodiversity as the climate warms.

Will invasive species start to dominate the landscape? Will different native plants move in? What about the native species trying to survive now?

Ecologist Scott Bridgham helped design the experiment, which uses watering hoses and circles of electric heat lamps. He's one of the leaders of the University of Oregon team trying to mimic what climatologists predict for this region 50 to 80 years from now.  

The chest-high outdoor heat lamps aim to keep the plants in the experiment at a constant three degrees Celsius hotter than they would be otherwise. Sprinklers add further realism to the model.

The researchers have set up their windows-on-the-future at three widely-spaced nature preserves in western Oregon and Washington state. At each location, the team has staked out experimental plots in a prairie. Some circles get extra heat and rain on top of what nature currently provides and others are left alone to serve as controls.

More wildflowers bloom in a heated (left) vs. untreated control plot (right).

"Climate change may be good for some of these species," says Bridgham. "It may be bad for some of these species. And so we're trying to sort that out."

Bart Johnson, the co-principal investigator, says all the team members periodically get on their hands and knees to count and measure. "It's very difficult to predict. I think there's no better way to do it than an empirical study like this where we are putting additional heat out here and seeing what the effects are."

At the northernmost of the three sites is a prairie being restored by the private environmental group called The Nature Conservancy. White oxeye daisies catch the eye alongside colorful ground-hugging natives such as blue lupines, purple owl's clover, green bracken fern and a yellow flower called Oregon sunshine. The researchers collect data here.

Some of the plots with heat lamps have more flowers.

"It's kind of cold," says Johnson. "The plants under the heater lamps are not unhappy at all about having a little extra heat right now."

However, other plants flourish in the cold.

"When we go all the way down to southern Oregon, what we have seen there is that there are a small number of the introduced species which are quite invasive that do really well on the plots because now they have cold winters down there, but they have enough warmth and enough moisture in the heated plots to grow very rapidly," says Johnson. "They are emerging before the native species are and tending to smother out the other plants."

Johnson says having a string of experimental plots stretching 600 kilometers from south to north could also allow the researchers to predict shifts in the ranges of native and exotic plants. Bridgham says the team hopes to extrapolate their results to other regions of the world.

The University of Oregon team received $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to study climate impacts on dwindling prairies for three growing seasons. They're about halfway to the finish line.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid