Responses to Climate Change

How will life on Earth cope with all the changes the planet is going through? The world has experienced some dramatic shifts in the last century, shifts that will almost certainly continue in the century to come. As carbon dioxide and temperatures rise, the growing season lengthens and cold snaps diminish, and precipitation becomes more variable, SERC scientists are tracking changes in plants, animals, microbes and entire ecosystems.

Forests and wetlands remain some of the most critical ecosystems to preserve. Since 1987, plant ecologists in the Global Change Research Wetland have manipulated CO2, temperature, nitrogen and sea-level rise to forecast how wetland plants may grow in the world of 2100. In BiodiversiTree, SERC’s experimental forest, ecologists are testing whether the same tree species from the warmer south will grow better than trees from the north. In an experimental warming garden, scientists are manipulating temperature to see how well plants resist herbivores in the climate of the future. Forest ecologists have also discovered trees growing faster in the last 25 years than they have in the last two centuries. By itself, rising CO2 seems to act like a fertilizer for plant growth, but drought and higher temperatures could put them jeopardy.

Mass migration is another side effect of climate change. In the coastal wetlands of Florida, California, Australia and New Zealand, mangrove trees are moving north. Winter cold snaps are becoming less frequent, giving tropical plants an opening to move into the temperate zones. Invasive species are also moving into warmer regions, a phenomenon known as “Caribbean creep.” The projects below show more ways SERC ecologists are uncovering the planet’s reaction to climate change.

Research Projects