Last week, Education Program Manager, Kristen Poppleton, Media Development Director, Jerry Stenger and I spent the day conducting interviews with 3 University of Minnesota professors, which will be included in the online classroom portion of our Minnesota’s Changing Climate project funded through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Our goal is to provide students with examples of current research being conducted to study climate change throughout Minnesota’s biomes. It was incredibly interesting to speak with these experts and hear firsthand about their current projects and what they have already learned.
Our first interview was with Dr. Jennifer Powers, Assistant Professor in the Plant Biology and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior departments. Her current research in Minnesota examines the prairie’s responses to predicted climate warming. This is the first study in which the vegetation is being directly manipulated, through infrared heat lamps directly over the study plots, at 2 levels of warming. The plots also contain different combinations and types of prairie plant species in order to evaluate whether the effects of warming depend on the types of species present. This research will help evaluate how different global change drivers will affect the prairie biome in order to determine how to best manage the existing prairie fragments. Near the conclusion of her interview, Dr. Powers stated that learning how ecosystems respond to climate change is one of the greatest challenges that 21st century scientists face.
Our next interview was with Dr. Lee Frelich, Director of the Center for Forest Ecology, who spoke to us about his research in Minnesota’s boreal forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. His research focuses on climate change, disturbances and invasive species. Dr. Frelich emphasized that climate has an important impact on the frequency of forest fires and wind storms as well as the presence of invasive species, so it is important to study these 3 elements together. One of Dr. Frelich’s current studies involves a plot at Hegman Lake in the BWCA where every tree was mapped 10 years ago, which allows him to follow the composition and growth of the forest over time. One observation is that red maple, a deciduous forest species, has been invading the area and increasing in abundance. This means that the coniferous species will have to compete with these new species for a place in the forest in the future. Minnesota’s boreal forest is the biome that will probably leave Minnesota in a warmer climate and bring the plant and animal species found there with it.
Lastly, we interviewed Dr. Sue Galatowitsch, Professor of Restoration Ecology. She began studying climate change in Minnesota because she was interested to find out what would occur in this highly fragmented landscape, where much of the land has become farms or cities, in the middle of a continent. She also wanted to determine what conditions ecosystems in Minnesota would face in the future. Thus, she became involved with the first climate change projections for the state of Minnesota, which predicted a 3°C rise in temperature over the next 30 years. An overall drier climate was also predicted, which would be a climate similar to that of southern Iowa, near the Nebraska border. Based on these projections, it is very likely that the current deciduous forest biome in Minnesota will become prairie in the future. Dr. Galatowitsch stated that it is important for ecosystems to have as many species as possible to make them more resilient in the face of coming changes.
This is just a preview of what was discussed in these extremely informative and engaging interviews. All the information will be integrated into our new online classroom that we are excited to introduce along with our new curriculum resources at the 2011 Summer Institute. Find more information and apply today on our website!