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Alexandra Wright FDGA 2016

Research Project Title: Long-term effects of flooding on legumes and consequent effects of flooding on ecosystem function

Author: Alexandra Wright, PhD, Assistant Professor, FIT - Science & Mathematics

Dates of research travel: June 18 - August 1 2016

Research Report

In June and July 2016 I travelled to Leipzig Germany and Athens Greece to continue with an ongoing research project that I have been working on since Fall 2013. The project is a part of the Jena Experiment in central Germany(http://www.the-jena-experiment.de). The major goal of the project, and of the experiment as a whole, is to better understand how biodiversity may help buffer human societies against the most serious imp!ications of global climate change. For example, in June 2013 a major flood event hit much of central and eastern Europe. The flood inundated a long-term biodiversity experiment in Jena, Germany for 25 days. Since 2013 we have been studying how the flood impacted these grasslands, and how biodiversity helped buffer against the most negative changes imposed by the flood.

The major outcomes of this most recent FDGA funded research trip are as follows:

1. We published a manuscript in the high impact journal, New Phytologist (Impact Factor= 7.21) that will be released in Fall 2016:

Wright, A., de Kroon, H., Visser, E.J.W., Buchmann, T., Ebeling, A., Eisenhauer, N., Fischer, C., Hildebrandt, A., Ravenek, J., Roscher, C., Weigelt, A., Weisser, W., Voesenek, L. A.C.J., Memmer, L. Accepted. Plants are less negatively affected by flooding when growing in species-rich plant communities. New Phytologist.

In particular, we found that individual plant species are less negatively impacted by flooding when growing in species rich plant communities (figure below). This has enormous implications for agricultural food systems, as the monocultures we currently use to grow food may be much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change:

2. We were also invited to write a theoretical manuscript in the high impact journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution (Impact Factor= 16.7) about how positive interactions between plants help improve biodiversity in grassland ecosystems. This manuscript was submitted in June 2016 and is currently under review:

Wright, A., Gaxiola, A., Wardle, D., Callaway, R. In review: Trends in Ecology & Evolution. The overlooked role of facilitation in biodiversity experiments.

3. Finally, we assessed the longer-term impacts of the 2013 flood and found that all plant communities had completely recovered to pre-flood conditions. This included a return to pre-flood levels of biodiversity, pre-flood levels of legume abundance, and pre-flood levels of overall productivity. This was a surprising finding, as prevailing ecological theory predicts long-term impacts of catastrophic flooding events such as the one experienced in 2013. The implications of this work have large implications for agricultural management as well: even large-scale disturbances may have small long­term impacts, as long as the ecosystems are given time to rebound to pre-disturbance conditions.

4. We are working with scientists from throughout Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Spain, France, Greece) to write a grant to explore how drought in Europe is buffered in higher diversity ecosystems.

 

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