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Old hay and Alpine ibex horns reveal how grasslands respond to climate change
Date:12/9/2009

How do plant ecosystems react to rising concentrations of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere over the long term? This fundamental question is becoming increasingly pressing in light of global climate change. Researchers from the Chair of Grassland Science at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have now for the first time worldwide taken up this issue for grasslands. The scientists found their answers in two unlikely places: in horns of Alpine ibex from Switzerland and in 150-year-old hay from England.

Researchers studying the reactions of trees to rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere have it easy. Since trees store the carbon they absorb in wood, all they need to do is take core samples from tree trunks. A centenarian oak will reveal how it coped with the incipient climate change over a period of a hundred years in its annual rings. "However, the grassland vegetation we work with is grazed or dies off in a matter of months and decomposes," explains Prof. Hans Schnyder, who is doing research in the field of grasslands at the Center for Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan at the TUM. The Swiss scientist nonetheless wanted to establish out how economically grasslands deal with water when temperatures rise and the carbon dioxide concentration in the air increases.

Important in this context is that all plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. At the same time they transpire water vapor to cool their sunlit leaves. Both processes run via the stomata, tiny pores in the leaves, the opening size of which plants can regulate. During longer periods of drought plants close the stomata to curb water loss, albeit at the expense of CO2 absorption. Laboratory experiments show that, for a given stoma aperture, an artificial increase of ambient CO2 leads to a temporary increase in the absorption capacity for the gas. However, to ascertain the actual change of water use efficiency in grassland vegetation over the course of the last century, P
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Contact: Jana Bodicky
bodicky@zv.tum.de
49-816-171-5403
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert

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