Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Climate change impacts on ‘medium’ meadows

Futurity.org: The effects of drought on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of the Rocky Mountains provide a glimpse of how changing climate affects the diversity of meadow plants and animals. As the Earth’s temperature rises, the area’s climate becomes drier, leading to changes in the types of plants and animals that live there, says Diane Debinski, professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Iowa State University.

To study the potential effects of climate change, Debinski has been conducting large-scale, long-term, observational studies of the plant and insect communities in 55 montane (mountainous) meadows in the ecosystem that ranged from dry (xeric) to wet (hydric).

The meadows get most of their water from the melting of winter snows—runoff provides water to the area into July and August. “It was our aim to look at the same sites year after year,” explains Debinski. “We know that the world changes and ecological communities change over time, but not many people look at the same research sites for a decade or more. I wanted a data set to look at changes in the communities over the long term.”

...“In these meadows, as water became more scarce, that means less moisture for the plants,” she says. “The flowering plants don’t grow as well and therefore don’t provide as much food to the animals. These types of changes in the plants could affect populations of elk, bison, as well as many other smaller animals, including insects.”…

Bison calves in a meadow, Yellowstone National Park, shot by Hans Jørn Storgaard Andersen, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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