Some plant species seem to defy climate change: study

July 9th, 2008 - 2:34 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 9 (IANS) Some plants defy odds and adapt to changes in patterns of temperature and rainfall, according to what is being described as the longest-running study of the impact of climate change on natural vegetation. For instance, the study, which has thrown up new insights into the effects of warming on plant ecosystem, found that grasses clinging to steep cliffsides in England have shown an exceptional ability to adapt.

“Contemporary wisdom suggests that climate changes cause plants to move or die,” said Jason Fridley of Syracuse University and the study‚Äôs co-author.

“However, our study suggests that if the changes in climate occur slowly enough, some plants have the ability to respond, adapt and thrive in their existing location.”

The findings are based on an analysis of 13 years of data collected at the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Laboratory (BCCIL) in the UK by J. Philip Grime and colleagues at the University of Sheffield.

Established in 1989, BCCIL is a field laboratory of grasslands consisting largely of slow-growing herbs and sub-shrubs, many of which are more than 100 years old.

As many as 50 different species of plants per square meter survive the region’s hostile conditions by growing in shallow soil and in the nooks and crannies of limestone outcrops.

The 13-year experiment at BCCIL involved subjecting 30 small grassland plots to microclimate manipulation.

For example, some plots received 20 percent more water than normal during the summer, while other plots were covered with rain shelters in the summer to simulate drought conditions; heating cables were placed under some plots to simulate winter warming.

The grasses in all of the plots were cut to simulate annual sheep grazing. A similar experiment was concurrently conducted on grasslands in Southern England for the first five years.

“Based on the results of the five-year experiment, we suspected there was something unique happening in the northern grasslands that enabled the plants to resist simulated climate changes,” Fridley said.

The findings of the study were published online in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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