A National Science Foundation grant of nearly $1 million will fund new research at two ForestGEO sites – Harvard Forest and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) starting later this year. The $965,000 award was granted to University of Maryland Associate Professor and ForestGEO partner Nathan Swenson, ForestGEO Director Stuart Davies, and Temperate Forest Program Coordinator Sean McMahon to investigate forest function from genes to canopies. The research aims to quantify how inter- and intra-annual differential gene expression in leaves and genotypic differentiation are related to leaf level gas exchange, fine scale measurements of tree growth, and carbon dioxide flux measured at the scale of forest canopies.
Forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide makes them integral to regulating climate change. But the thousands of individual trees within a forest vary greatly in their physiological and growth response to environmental change. In order to predict future forest functioning, individual leaf processes need to be linked to larger forest level processes. This research will use innovative new technology and specific measurements of individual tree growth and physiology to address this challenge.
“The work uniquely scales from genes to ecosystems while simultaneously considering spatial and temporal variation in forest function”, said Swenson. “Ecology is entering a exciting new age where the substantial advances made in genome and transcriptome sequencing can now be utilized in non-model organisms in the wild. Coupling these advances in ‘omics with detailed measurements of plant performance from the leaf to the canopy scale was thought to be impossible only a few years ago and it is expected to transform ecology”.
Harvard Forest and SERC are also part of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), which is supported by NSF. It is a network of ecological observation facilities with sites across the U.S. that gathers and analyzes data on climate change, land use change, invasive species, and how these influence biodiversity and natural resources. Goals of NEON include forecasting continental-scale environmental change, informing natural resource decisions, and engaging the next generation of scientists.