Original Paper


, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 583-597

First online:

Novel Approaches to Study Climate Change Effects on Terrestrial Ecosystems in the Field: Drought and Passive Nighttime Warming

  • Claus BeierAffiliated withRISØ National Laboratory Email author 
  • , Bridget EmmettAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology–Bangor
  • , Per GundersenAffiliated withForest and Landscape, Denmark Royal Agricultural and Veterinary University
  • , Albert TietemaAffiliated withCenter for Geo-ecological Research (JCG), Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)–Physical Geography, University of Amsterdam
  • , Josep PeñuelasAffiliated withUnitat Ecofisiologia CSIC–CEAB–CREAF, CREAF (Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications)
  • , Marc EstiarteAffiliated withUnitat Ecofisiologia CSIC–CEAB–CREAF, CREAF (Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications)
  • , Carmen GordonAffiliated withDepartment of Plant and Soil Science, University of Aberdeen
  • , Antonie GorissenAffiliated withPlant Research International
  • , Laura LlorensAffiliated withUnitat Ecofisiologia CSIC–CEAB–CREAF, CREAF (Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications)
    • , Ferran RodaAffiliated withCREAF (Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications)
    • , Dylan WilliamsAffiliated withCountryside Council for Wales

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This article describes new approaches for manipulation of temperature and water input in the field. Nighttime warming was created by reflection of infrared radiation. Automatically operated reflective curtains covered the vegetation at night to reduce heat loss to the atmosphere. This approach mimicked the way climate change, caused by increased cloudiness and increased greenhouse gas emissions, alters the heat balance of ecosystems. Drought conditions were created by automatically covering the vegetation with transparent curtains during rain events over a 2–5-month period. The experimental approach has been evaluated at four European sites across a climate gradient. All sites were dominated (more than 50%) by shrubs of the ericaceous family. Within each site, replicated 4-m × 5-m plots were established for control, warming, and drought treatments and the effect on climate variables recorded. Results over a two-year period indicate that the warming treatment was successful in achieving an increase of the minimum temperatures by 0.4–1.2°C in the air and soil. The drought treatment resulted in a soil moisture reduction of 33%–82% at the peak of the drought. The data presented demonstrate that the approach minimizes unintended artifacts with respect to water balance, moisture conditions, and light, while causing a small but significant reduction in wind speed by the curtains. Temperature measurements demonstrated that the edge effects associated with the treatments were small. Our method provides a valuable tool for investigating the effects of climate change in remote locations with minimal artifacts.

Experimental manipulation nighttime warming drought shrubland ecosystem climate change artefacts edge effects