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

rof. Schnyder had to find grassland time series comparable in length to those of trees.

This is where the team turned their sights to the Alpine ibex horn collection at the Museum of Natural History in Bern. Ibex store isotopic information in their horns that reflects the water use of the vegetation they consume. The TUM researchers went at the museum collection, which covers the years 1938 to 2006, with a carving knife, to remove tiny samples from the horns. Since ibex horns also have annual rings, the grassland researchers were able to use the samples to draw conclusions about temporal changes in the grassland vegetation of the Bernese Alps where the ibex had grazed.

A unique specimen archive at the research station Rothamsted in England eventually enabled a comparison with a second grassland region. The "Park Grass Experiment" the longest running ecological grassland experiment worldwide was initiated in Rothamsted over 150 years ago. Since 1857 specimens have been archived there to allow future generations of scientists to gain long-term insights into the local ecosystem using modern research methods. And indeed, the TUM scientists were able to benefit from the hay specimens dating as far back as 150 years. Once again analyzing the isotope signature, they could infer how the English grassland vegetation had utilized the water over the years.

The Weihenstephan researchers thus determined the individual isotope composition of the grassland vegetation in both the Bernese Alps and in the British lowlands over extended periods of time: more than 69 years based on the horns, and as far back as 150 years using the hay specimens. In a second step this data was lined up with climate data, e.g. air temperature and aridity, of the respective region.

The result: In both locations the intrinsic water-use efficiency of the grassland vegetation rose over the years. This implies that the plants improved their water storage potential as te
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Contact: Jana Bodicky
bodicky@zv.tum.de
49-816-171-5403
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert

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