Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Climate change helps, then quickly stunts plant growth, decade-long study shows

Date:
April 9, 2012
Source:
Northern Arizona University
Summary:
Global warming may initially make the grass greener, but not for long, according to new research. A new study shows that plants may thrive in the early stages of a warming environment but begin to deteriorate quickly.

Grassland ecosystems found in northern Arizona were used in a decade-long study conducted at Northern Arizona University that simulated the long-term effects of global warming.
Credit: Photo composite by Michael Allwright and Paul Dijkstra

Global warming may initially make the grass greener, but not for long, according to new research conducted at Northern Arizona University. The study, published this week in Nature Climate Change, shows that plants may thrive in the early stages of a warming environment but begin to deteriorate quickly.

"We were really surprised by the pattern, where the initial boost in growth just went away," said Zhuoting Wu, NAU doctoral graduate in biology. "As the ecosystems adjust, the responses changed."

Researchers subjected four grassland ecosystems to simulated climate change during the decade-long study. Plants grew more the first year in the global warming treatment, but this effect progressively diminished over the next nine years, and finally disappeared.

The research reports the long-term effects of global warming on plant growth, the plant species that make up the community, and the changes in how plants use or retain essential resources like nitrogen. The team transplanted four grassland ecosystems from higher to lower elevation to simulate a future warmer environment, and coupled the warming with the range of predicted changes in precipitation -- more, the same, or less. The grasslands studied were typical of those found in northern Arizona along elevation gradients from the San Francisco Peaks down to the great basin desert.

The researchers found that long-term warming resulted in loss of native species and encroachment of species typical of warmer environments, pushing the plant community toward less productive species. The warmed grasslands also cycled nitrogen more rapidly, an effect that should make more nitrogen available to plants, helping them grow more. But instead much of the nitrogen was lost, converted to nitrogen gases lost to the atmosphere or leached out with rainfall washing through the soil.

Bruce Hungate, senior author of the study and NAU Biological Sciences professor, said the research findings challenge the expectation that warming will increase nitrogen availability and cause a sustained increase in plant productivity.

"Faster nitrogen turnover stimulated nitrogen losses, likely reducing the effect of warming on plant growth," Hungate said. "More generally, changes in species, changes in element cycles -- these really make a difference. It's classic systems ecology: the initial responses elicit knock-on effects which here came back to bite the plants. These ecosystem feedbacks are critical. You just can't figure this out with plants grown in a greenhouse. "

The findings caution against extrapolating from short-term experiments, or experiments in a greenhouse, where experimenters cannot measure the feedbacks from changes in the plant community and from nutrient cycles. The research will continue at least five more years with current funding from the National Science Foundation and, Hungate said, hopefully for another five years after that.

"The long-term perspective is key. We were surprised, and I'm guessing there are more surprises in store."

Additional coauthors include George Koch, NAU professor of Biological Sciences, and Paul Dijkstra, assistant research professor of Biological Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northern Arizona University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Zhuoting Wu, Paul Dijkstra, George W. Koch, Bruce A. Hungate. Biogeochemical and ecological feedbacks in grassland responses to warming. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1486

Cite This Page:

Northern Arizona University. "Climate change helps, then quickly stunts plant growth, decade-long study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120409103253.htm>.
Northern Arizona University. (2012, April 9). Climate change helps, then quickly stunts plant growth, decade-long study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120409103253.htm
Northern Arizona University. "Climate change helps, then quickly stunts plant growth, decade-long study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120409103253.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, April 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) A disease that has killed more than six million cave-dwelling bats in the United States is on the move and wildlife biologists are worried. White Nose Syndrome, discovered in New York in 2006, has now spread to 25 states. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888

New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) Federal researchers have released new images of the City of Chester, a steamship that sank in San Francisco Bay in 1888. Researchers recently found the shipwreck while mapping shipping routes. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Risk of Asteroid Hitting Earth Higher Than Thought, Study Shows

Risk of Asteroid Hitting Earth Higher Than Thought, Study Shows

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 23, 2014) A group of space explorers say the chance of a city-obliterating asteroid striking Earth is higher than scientists previously believed. Deborah Gembara reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

AFP (Apr. 23, 2014) The UN mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) led a mine clearance demonstration on Wednesday in the UN-controlled buffer zone where demining operations are being conducted near the Cypriot village of Mammari. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Climate Change Boosts Then Quickly Stunts Plants, Decade-Long Study Shows

Apr. 11, 2012 Global warming may initially make the grass greener, but not for long, according to new research results. The findings show that plants may thrive in the early stages of a warming environment but ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins