for National Geographic News
Grassland ecosystems found in higher altitudes throughout Western Europe may be resistant to climate change, according to new results from a long-term experiment.
The finding is in sharp contrast to similar research conducted in an alpine meadow in North America that suggests mountain wildflowers will all but disappear in a warming world.
Other studies have also shown major climate-spurred changes to plant composition in Minnesota bogs, Alaskan forests, and Siberian tundra.
(Related: "One Degree of Warming Having Major Impact, Study Finds" [May 14, 2008].)
But the new study found very little change in a European grassland even after 13 years of controlled exposure to higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns.
"It's taken a long time to recognize that some systems may be rather more resistant [to climate change] than those that were reported on earlier," said lead study author Philip Grime, an ecologist and emeritus professor at the University of Sheffield in England.
Grime and colleagues describe their work in a paper published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Between 1994 and 2006, Grime's team monitored 97-square-foot (9-square-meter) plots in a grassland in Buxton, England, normally used for grazing livestock.
Each plot was trimmed to simulate continued grazing but was kept 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) warmer than nearby outside temperatures.
The team also manipulated rainfall patterns to mimic the droughts and deluges anticipated in a warming world.
Initially the scientists saw an increase in some shrubs and a decrease in flowering plants such as rockroses and wild thyme due to the simulated droughts.
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