Biology students participating in global experiment
The goal is to understand how the ecosystems on Earth will be affected by a future climate distinguished by more extreme weather.
“What is the characteristic of this type of plant,” Postdoctoral Fellow Amy Eycott asks the biology students Kristina McGrory and Hanne Wilhelms, who lie on their stomachs among straw and grass. They are enthusiastically concerned with the identification and enumeration of different crops.
The bachelor students in biology are at the Heathland Centre at Lygra, where they are doing field work the full first week of the semester. The students have chosen different projects to work on, and one of the groups will describe the vegetation of heaths, and also make preparations for a project named International Drought Experiment (IDE).
Research project with meaning
The aim of the IDE project is to determine how and why ecosystems on dry land, which are also called terrestrial ecosystems, may differ in their sensitivity to extreme drought. To achieve this, small, carefully measured fields all over the world are exposed to an extreme drought over the next four years.
The students at Lygra have selected their respective areas of the heathlands, where they have measured and marked the specific size of their fields.
“It is very interesting and fun to participate in something that is actually going to be used in future research,” says student Hanne Wilhelms.
She thinks it is motivating with a break from the books and the reading, and to get the opportunity to experience the biology up close.
“I am starting to get a better overview of the plants that are surrounding us, and I find it very exciting,” she says.
Same phenomenon at different locations
“It is driest on the peaks, so this is where we select sites for the project,” Amy Eycott explains to the students.
Later, roofs will be built over some of the fields, to carry out the drying.
“All the project participants are doing the same, and all the results are added together. In this way, we examine the same phenomenon at many different places around the world,” says Vigdis Vandvik, who is the leader of bioCEED.
The work the students do at the Heathland Centre is part of bioCEED, which is a Centre of Excellence in Higher Education (SFU), a national programme in Norwegian to promote innovation in higher education.
Vandvik believes it is great fun to involve the students in an actual research project and that also has implications far outside of Bergen and Norway.
More extreme weather, more drought
She points out that it from the outside might seem a bit odd to examine drought in western Norway, a region where there is a large amount of precipitation.
“Simultaneously as we are now getting more rainfall, the reliability, or the variation, in the weather also increases. We then get more extreme weather. This also means drought. During the winter of 2014 the drought along the western coast of Norway led to heath fires in a number of places,” Vandvik recalls.
The project in the heathlands thus has a national perspective. Old heath has drought damage, which can easily catch fire. Researching the heathlands and the impact of the use on this landscape are consequently an important part of the future work on this area.
“The heathlands are dependent on being burned regularly, to avoid drought damage. In practice we must therefore burn the heath to avoid future dangerous fires,” Vandvik explains.