Researchers monitor S. Burlington Natural Area for climate study
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vermont (WCAX) – Climate research currently underway in South Burlington aims to study the impact of temperature variations on key creatures in our ecosystem.
This story begins with a question I had while walking around the Hubbard Nature Area in South Burlington. I noticed all these small areas surrounded by mesh scattered around the terrain. Turns out they’re part of an insect study.
“The heart of the research is really asking a big question about climate change,” said Nathalie Sommer, a doctoral student at the Yale School of the Environment. She says the dozens and dozens of enclosures contain plants, grasshoppers and spiders. “We look at the food web and we look at it over a five-year period to really see how climate variability affects the functioning of the food web as well as ecosystem processes.”
They chose these arthropods because their bodies are particularly sensitive to temperature changes and because the researchers already have a large amount of baseline data on the species, so they can then compare the results. “We have about 20 years of historical data on this system, so we can really focus on the climate question in particular,” Sommer said.
This site is not the only type where this research is carried out. Eight sites between South Burlington and Connecticut are used to survey a broader area of the northeast. “South Burlington is an incredible site. It’s our northernmost site, which means it’s both the coldest and the most subject to climate variability,” Sommer said.
The size of Hubbard’s natural area didn’t hurt either, giving them plenty of room to set up all those speakers. They are frequently monitored by researchers to detect changes in temperature and soil composition, and to ensure that outside predators do not cross the insect-proof mesh. “We had a little trouble with the birds. The birds get excited because they see the grasshoppers in there and sometimes they come and poke holes in it,” Sommer said.
At the end of the five-year study, Sommer says they should be able to predict what will happen to these keystone species under conditions of extreme climate variability.
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