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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to an enhancement or regression of democracy on the Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents 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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid