The Patterns of climate change

Biologists analyze data of long-term experiment to monitor and predict how plant species will respond to climate change

Plant Ecology researchers at the University of Tübingen have developed a technique to monitor and predict how plant species will respond to climate change. Dr. Mark Bilton and Professor Katja Tielbörger, from the Institute of Evolution and Ecology, re-analysed data with Spanish collaborators from their unprecedented 16-year experiment. The experiment was conducted in an area the size of two football pitches within the Garraf National park south west of Barcelona. The landscape is mostly a Mediterranean scrubland, featuring thickets of low rise shrubs and herbs such as rosemary and thyme, and home to many protected species.

Using large automatic shelters, climate for the plants living in their natural environment was changed in order to match climate conditions predicted in the future, separately by decreasing rainfall and by raising temperatures. However, until now, it was unclear how the different species of plants were responding to changed climate, making it difficult to make further predictions about which species may be most affected in the future. The results of the study were published in the New Phytologist.

In general, global warming and reduced precipitation may lead to large-scale species losses and vegetation shifts in ecosystems around the world. Depending on whether plants are better adapted to warm and dry conditions or to cool and wet conditions, the response to a changed climate is likely to vary even within a region. In the study the scientists showed, that within a region, the relative rate and direction of plant response to a changed climate can be directly related to where and which climates the species occur in more frequently.

Therefore the researchers used a large online database containing the localities of where the different species in the experiment occurred all throughout southern Europe. These observations were combined with rainfall and temperature maps. This way the average temperature or rainfall requirements of the different co-occurring species in Spain could be used to rank them, based on which climates they are more commonly found. This ranking technique helped the scientists unlock the secrets behind which species were changing in the experiment, and monitor their changes over time.

In this particular experiment, the overall species diversity and vegetative biomass did initially respond negatively, but from 8 to 16 years the overall amount of vegetation was increasing again. Here the researchers showed that the initial decrease was due to a disappearance of the wet adapted species, followed by a delayed increase in the dry loving species. In addition, the novel ranking technique showed, that the species that declined under decreased rainfall, were different to those disappearing under increased temperatures.

By finding that responses were mainly related directly to where the species originally occur more frequently, separately for either rainfall or temperature, predictions can be extended to other future scenarios of climate change. “The technique is logical, but also surprisingly revealing”, says Dr. Mark Bilton, who has been using the same method to study plant responses in Israel. “It allows us to compare the rate of change of species within a habitat, but also between habitats”. Combining the ranking technique with the leading experimental approach to understanding climate change responses, the response of vegetation in other regions can be monitored and compared. “Within a region this can aid conservation efforts to identify those species likely to be lost most quickly. We are also confident it can help identify, which species and regions around the world may be more vulnerable to climate change in the future.”

 

Climate Change_Ecology and Evolution  xxxx Climate Change_Ecology and Evolution2

Automatic shelters used to alter either precipitation or temperature in Garraf National Park near Barcelona. Images: Courtesy of Josep Peñuelas

Publication: Daijun Liu, Josep Penuelas, Roma Ogaya, Marc Estiarte, Katja Tielbörger, Fabian Slowik, Xiaohong Yang and Mark C. Bilton: Species selection under long-term experimental warming and drought explained by climatic distributions, New Phytologist , DOI: 10.1111/nph.14925, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.14925/full

Contact: Daijun Liu, Prof. Josep Peñuelas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, CREAF – Global Ecology Unit, Phone +34 667094190, d.liu@creaf.uab.es

Dr. Mark Bilton, Tübingen University, Institute of Evolution and Ecology, Phone +49 7071 29-73235, mark.bilton@uni-tuebingen.de

 

Nature commends four Spanish scientists for outstanding mentoring

Four Spanish scientists have been recognised by Nature, the leading, international weekly journal of science, for exemplary personal mentoring of other scientists. The Nature Awards for Mentoring in Science have been hosted since 2005 in various countries and regions to champion the importance of mentoring and inspiring a generation of young scientists. The 2017 awards have for the first time taken place in Spain.

Chair of the judges: Josep Penuelas, Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF) – National Research Council (CSIC), Barcelona

Judging panel:
Alison Abbott, Nature, Munich, Germany
Emilia R. Solano, CIEMAT, Madrid, Spain
Juan Lerma, Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante – UMH, Alicante, Spain
Mariano Barbacid, Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas, Madrid, Spain
Pilar Ruiz Lapuente, Institute of Cosmos Sciences, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

At the ceremony held at the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences in Madrid, Sir Philip Campbell PhD, the Editor-in-Chief of Nature, presented the awards and congratulated the recipients on their laudable contributions.

The joint-recipients of the lifetime achievement award are:

  • Professor Carlos Belmonte, founding Director of the Institute of Neuroscience of Alicante
  • Professor Margarita Salas, former Director of the CSIC Centre for Molecular Biology Severo Ochoa in Madrid

 

The joint-recipients of the mid-career achievement award are:

  • Professor Carlos López-Otín, a molecular biologist from the University of Oviedo
  • Professor Lluís Torner, a physicist and founding Director of the ICFO (Institute of Photonic Sciences) in Barcelona.

 

Carmen Vela, the Spanish Secretary of State for Research, Development and Innovation commented on the importance of the awards: “Nature is an internationally renowned science journal in which researchers from around the world seek to publish their work, so it is very important for us to receive the ‘Nature Mentoring Awards’ here this year. Spain is a country full of talented scientists, and many of them have been guided by Margarita Salas, Carlos Belmonte, Carlos López-Otín and Lluis Torner, four great Spanish researchers. I would like to express my gratitude for their work over these years”.

Sir Philip Campbell, who established the awards, said: “These awards have taken place in 13 countries or regions, including the western United States, Nordic countries, South Africa, Japan and China. These are very varied cultures, and yet the key characteristics of outstanding mentors are remarkably similar. Spain’s great examples are no exception – they are extraordinary in their ability to nurture emerging scientists of great diversity.”

Through the Nature Awards for Mentoring in Science Nature recognises outstanding scientific mentors in different regions around the world. Each winner receives a prize of €5,000.

More information about the panel of judges and eligibility criteria for this year’s awards can be found here.

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