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

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win 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.
Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs