Ecosystems Center scientists investigate effects of climate change on important arctic plants

November 17th, 2015 @   - 
Eriophorum vaginatum_cottongrass

Eriophorum vaginatum (cottongrass)

A new project of Ecosystems Center Postdoctoral Scientist Thomas Parker and Associate Scientist Jim Tang investigates the impacts climate change will have on different populations of the dominant arctic sedge, cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum) and whether populations of cottongrass adapted to specific local arctic conditions will survive under climate warming. This work tests whether warm-adapted species will be able to track climate change and move north and how this will affect ecosystem processes such as releases of greenhouse gases and carbon storage in tundra soils. Drs. Parker and Tang collaborate with Dr. Ned Fetcher from Wilkes University and Dr. Michael Moody of the University of Texas at El Paso.

The team worked at Toolik Lake Field station on the North Slope of Alaska during the summer of 2015 and will return in 2016. The team transplants cottongrass to sites farther north and south within the species’ wide range and combines transplants with warming experiments (pictured) to simulate warming over the next century. This NSF-funded project will improve our understanding of future vegetation of a warmer arctic and how this will affect the carbon balance of this globally-important ecosystem.

Tom Parker (right) and Wilkes University student Stephen Forney (left) measure cotton grass abundance and cover at the southern-most experimental site at Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo credit: Darrel Dech, Wilkes University.

Tom Parker (right) and Wilkes University student Stephen Forney (left) measure cottongrass abundance and cover at the southern-most experimental site at Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo credit: Darrel Dech, Wilkes University.

Research assistant Mahalia Clark tags an Eriophorum vaginatum tussock for long-term monitoring. Photo credit: Dr. Joanna Carey, MBL Postdoctoral Scientist.

Research assistant Mahalia Clark tags an Eriophorum vaginatum tussock for long-term monitoring. Photo credit: Dr. Joanna Carey, MBL Postdoctoral Scientist.

Researchers set up open top chambers to increase air temperature over potentially vulnerable cottongrass at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. This plant currently covers vast expenses of tundra in northern Alaska.

Researchers set up open top chambers to increase air temperature over potentially vulnerable cottongrass at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. This plant currently covers vast expenses of tundra in northern Alaska.

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