Some hungry geese walk into the warming arctic tundra.
This might sound like the start to a weird joke, but, it also was the start of Chelsea Little’s amazing MEME project!
The question of evolutionary resilience, in animals and plants, is becoming increasingly a concern in light of climate change. One ecosystem of interest is the arctic tundra. Chelsea talked to us about her project investigating how the arctic tundra vegetation community recovered from years of intense herbivory in the context of our warming world. She did this by trekking (well she took two buses and a helicopter) all the way out to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Here she collected data on plots of tundra that, over a long term experiment, have been subjected to varying levels of grazing by geese as well as, different temperatures controlled by Open Top Chambers (like mini temperature controlled greenhouses!). Chelsea measured how the plots differed in the structure and composition of tundra and growth and the plants reproduction output.
It was thought that because tundra plants have been under strong selective pressure for their harsh environmental conditions that their response to warming temperature and grazing may differ from plants in temperate regions. Chelsea found that the tundra plants are resilient to current warming - but their underlying ecosystem process was changing in response to rising temperatures. These findings are important to understand and predict the functional changes that will happen to the tundra with the on-going effects of climate change.
Written by Kate Garland.
To learn more about evolutionary resilience to climate change watch thisgreat video by TED Ed.
Check out the International Tundra Experiment ITEX to see what scientists are doing to better understand the impacts of climate change on tundra and alpine vegetation.
Read more about Chelsea’s tundra study here !
Chelsea’s tundra data has also been used in recent global tundra studies, including this recent paper in Nature!
Her project was supervised by with Dr. Juha Alatalo and co-supervised by Elisabeth Cooper.
You can follow Chelsea on Twitter, Researchgate and her website.
Here current lab is the Altermatt lab.
Chelsea is also the coordinator for an online group of runners and bikers in ecology and evolution.
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Photo of the arctic tundra by Chelsea (left). Chelsea while in Svalbard(middle). Barnacle geese feasting on the tundra, photo by Steve Garbie.
About the MEME Stream
A podcast following MEME students past and present on their adaptive walks of life as they embark on a career in evolutionary biology. The MEME is a unique masters program that enables upcoming evolutionary biologists from all over the globe to study and research in Europe. These podcasts will travel all over Europe and the world, leaping, as Richard Dawkins says, from brain to brain, MEME to MEME, telling tales of our scientific ventures and research projects.