British Experiments Feel Out Ecology of 2100 With Live Simulations

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Experimenting with Mother Nature is one way to figure out how climate change will look in 90 years. And with increased cues that climate change is imminent, we're starting to get curious about what changes are going to occur so that we can either plan for what will happen or figure out what changes can be made now.

Imperial College London’s Silwood Park campus in Berkshire is launching an experiment to see how projected changes in climate will affect local plant life. Watching how different plant species react to a changed climate could provide keys to life on Earth, or at least in England, should we reach the tipping point of climate change. How The Experiment Will Run
The experiment takes 168 plots of land sized at 2.4 square meters each, and covers them with grassy plant species and rain shelters. The rain shelters allow the experimenters to control how much rain the plants receive during summer and winter. The plants will only receive the amount of water projected to fall in 2100 – about 30% less rain during summer and 15% more during winter.

By monitoring how the plants react to these stressors, the study hopes to see how ecosystems will change in terms of water processing, nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and plant biodiversity, this last one an especially important element to the experiment since biodiversity is expected to decline.

Examining how plant species alter an ecosystem as the species themselves are altered by climate change is a particularly interesting aspect of the experiment.

Climate Experiments Are All In The Details
While there are many questions and pieces of the study that make it impossible to know for sure what 2100 will look like, the experiment still provides a foggy window to peep through, and perhaps some needed foresight into protecting local ecosystems.

We still have to wonder about all the variables that can't be controlled, such as the sudden change in rainfall, versus plants having about 90 years to adjust to changed levels. Also how the fauna of an area will be affected by climate change and therefore affects the plantlife and surrounding ecosystem.

However, we can be pretty sure the experimenters are asking all these questions.

Dr. Sally Power from Imperial's Division of Biology said: "Ecosystems will be facing a multitude of challenges in the coming years. 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."