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11 Apr 2012: Warming Boosts Plant Growth,
Then Causes Long-Term Decline, Study Says

A new study has found that some plant systems may thrive initially in a warmer climate but then deteriorate over the long term. During a decade-long study, researchers from Northern Arizona University (NAU) transplanted four grassland ecosystems from higher to lower elevations to simulate a warming climate, and also introduced a range of predicted precipitation changes. After observing a boost in plant growth during the first year, the researchers say the positive effects of warming diminished over the next nine years before ceasing altogether. According to their study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, exposure to warmer temperatures over several years caused the loss of some native species and encroachment of alien species better adapted to warmer environments. And while the ecosystems cycled nitrogen more rapidly, much of the nitrogen did not boost plant growth but rather was converted to nitrogen gases or leached out by rainfall. “It’s classic systems ecology: the initial responses elicit knock-on effects, which here came back to bite the plants,” said Bruce Hungate, an ecologist at NAU and lead author of the study. “These ecosystem feedbacks are critical — you can't figure this out with plants grown in a greenhouse.”


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