Scientists Are Recreating Global Warming in Pockets of the Forest

They want to keep an eye on the species that are easily overlooked.

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Jul 28 2015, 3:56pm

To better understand how global warming might affect our delicately balanced ecosystem, a team of scientists have created micro-environments in the woods of North Carolina and Massachusetts and are artificially heating them up.

There are a total of 12 of these enclosures in the two locations, each with a tree in its center. Researchers pump warm air into the enclosures, aiming for different increases in temperature. Then, they observe the effect of temperature difference on the life contained within the open-topped chambers.

The long-running study with six years of data focuses primarily on insect life: a large, diverse, and crucial segment of our planet's ecosystem. At only a five degree rise—the possible temperature change we'll see in a hundred years, according to the EPA—diversity of the ant population takes a hit. Herbivory (consumption of plants by animals) is also down, something the researchers weren't expecting.

The researchers are concerned about the organisms "nobody studies" that trees might depend on, like ants and caterpillars and the plants they feed on. "[These things] could go missing in the future, and it would take us a while to notice," says professor Rob Dunn.

Hopefully, his team's efforts will ensure that any absences will be noticed, if they can't be prevented.