Thursday, February 9, 2017

German Experimental Ecology

Posted by Richard B. Primack
“There is no such thing as pure objective observation. Your observation, to be interesting, i.e. to be significant, must be subjective.” -Thoreau, 1854

The first stop of my three week trip was at the University of Greifswald in northeastern Germany. The University was founded in 1456, and the town has a beautiful market square. My hosts were Jurgen Kreyling and Andrey Malyshev.

Greifswald market square

Just outside of Greifswald is an experiment that reduces snow levels using a roofing system to simulate a future climate scenario. In contrast, Pam Templer’s group reduces snow cover with shovels. Which method is better? It turns out that each method is best for its own location: roofs are better when the snow is shallow (Greifswald), and shovels are best when the snow is deep (New Hampshire).

In a field experiment, roofing is used to simulate a future climate with lower snow cover

Another trip was made to the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, where I stayed at the Black Bear Hotel that Martin Luther had also visited 500 years earlier. 

In the lobby of the Black Bear Hotel, my friend Sebastian waves to Martin Luther

There is a famous biodiversity experiment on the outskirts of Jena, which shows that increasing the number of plant species in a plot increases the ecosystem services and productivity of the plot.

Jumping for joy at the Jena biodiversity experiment (click to enlarge photo for a better look at the experiments)

Most researchers visit the experiment in the growing season, but we jumped for joy at the chance to go on a winter field trip. I learned that the site has to be frequently weeded each year to prevent succession to woody vegetation, and to prevent invasion by other herbaceous species that were not planted. So, the long-term results are partially an artifact of the plots being very aggressively managed. Without this management, the results would be totally different.

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