Gardeners know how a few key inputs can dramatically change the productivity of plants —timely additions of water and fertilizer, for instance, or the right soil conditions, can dramatically boost plant productivity.
Scientists seeking to understand what determines rates of plant growth in natural grasslands and rangelands have long focused on climatic conditions such as temperature and rainfall. However, in recent years a new suspect has emerged: nitrogen. The growth of fossil-fuel-based industrial activity, transportation and agriculture in recent decades has increased the amount of nitrogen traveling through the water and air around the world. One potential result is that areas that appear to be little impacted by human development and that are not being farmed can actually be fertilized from afar by these excess nutrients. Continue reading
The Nutrient Network is getting a lot of press these days. Coordinated through a University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment Discovery Grant, NutNet, as it is affectionately called, is a global research network conducting standardized experiments to understand the effects of fertilization on grasslands — land dominated by nonwoody vegetation.
Eric Lind, a postdoctoral associate in the College of Biological Sciences, serves as NutNet’s hub of operations, in charge of information management and network coordination. “What makes NutNet unique is that data are collected using the same protocols across different landscapes,” he says. “These data are allowing us to ask general questions like, ‘What is controlling diversity and productivity?’ ‘How are human activities changing diversity?’ ‘How do these changes impact the environment further on down the road?'” Continue reading