by Ed Tripp, University of Nottingham
Climate Change and Heathland
So all the dirt collecting has been done. It took two months and a good few thousand miles to get there, but I finally collected the three hundred soil samples that I needed. I can now work in the lab to find out what my data is showing about enzymes in heathland soils, and how this might be affecting heathland plants.
However, my samples will keep for a while before I analyse them so now I have time for something completely different.
Climate change is affecting everyone. We know that temperatures may be increasing, and rainfall patterns may be changing. Plants notice the changes just as much as we do. With increases in temperature plants grow faster, getting bigger quicker. Heather, which is slow growing, does grow faster when it's warmer, but other plants would respond to a greater extent. Bracken, for example, grows much faster when it's warmer. So if temperatures did increase heather may be forced out by faster growing species like braken and grasses. This means that we might lose even more heathland!
So what can we do about it?
Heather is found in places that are hotter and colder than the UK, like Spain and Finland. These heather populations might have adapted over many years to grow better under local climate conditions. If so, can we not plant heather from a hotter place, like Spain, here in the UK? Might this give heather a better chance to survive because the plants will be used to the hotter weather. Let's find out!
The attached pictures show three growth rooms, each with different daytime temperatures (17, 20 and 23 degrees), full of tiny heather seedlings. These were grown from seed collected from all over Europe, including Spain, Portugal, France, Norway, Finland and Germany.
Over the next few months we will find out it the plants from warmer regions grow better under increased temperatures in relation to plants from colder regions. Let's hope so!
Here also is a picture of me delicately placing seedlings on sand, ready for the growth room.