Purdue Climate Change Research Center

Seed grant funds work at Ross Reserve

This year, the PCCRC provided funding to initiate a local field study aimed at improving our understanding of how ecosystems are responding to changing climatic conditions. Climate change is already impacting the timing of biological events within natural communities, which could lead to dramatic changes in community dynamics if  tightly interacting species exhibit different responses to temperature variation.  Professor Nancy Emery and her research team are conducting a series of experiments with the goal of quantifying the consequences of changing temperatures on the mutualistic interactions between plants and their pollinators, using the spring ephemeral wildflower community at Purdue’s Ross Biological Reserve as the study system. Early spring wildflowers in deciduous forests are predicted to be particularly sensitive to climate change because their life cycles are closely linked to various climate-related events, and many rely on temperature-sensitive pollinators for seed production.

The current research project consists of three interrelated studies. First, the team has been monitoring natural-occurring patches of the spring ephemeral herbaceous plant community to identify the relationships between temperature, plant phenology and pollen limitation (i.e., the reduction in seedset due to the lack of pollination). Second, in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Holland (Department of Entomology), the insect pollinators and their responses to local temperature and plant flowering dynamics are being documented. Finally, the team has initiated a manipulative warming experiment to isolate the direct effects of elevated air and soil temperatures on plant flowering time and seedset of three different plant species that have been transplanted into the experimental plots. Collectively, these studies will help determine how changes in temperature affect the flowering time of several spring ephemeral plant species, and how these responses in turn affect plant-pollinator dynamics.

The project will continue over several years, but early results are already providing surprising insights into the effects of temperature on plant-pollinator interactions in the focal community. For example: despite the exceptionally early onset of warm temperatures, forest canopy development and flowering this past spring, pollinators were just as effective as they were in 2011 in maximizing seed set for Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty), a dominant member of the spring ephemeral plant community. Specifically, providing supplementary pollen to these flowers did not increase the number of seeds they produced in either year, indicating that the pollinators are providing sufficient—and consistent—pollination services for this plant population, even across years with significantly different climatic regimes. This project has facilitated the graduate training of Ms. Asya Robertshaw, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Botany & Plant Pathology, and 8 different undergraduate students from the Departments of Biological Sciences, Botany & Plant Pathology, and Entomology.

Contact Information

Purdue University
203 S. Martin Jischke Drive
MANN 105
West Lafayette, IN 47907