Researchers monitor S. Burlington natural area for climate study

Mesh enclosures in South Burlington natural area.
Mesh enclosures in South Burlington natural area.(Courtesy: Nathalie Sommer)
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 6:09 PM EST
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Climate research currently underway in South Burlington aims to study the impact of temperature swings on key creatures in our ecosystem.

This story starts with a question I had as I was walking around Hubbard Natural Area in South Burlington. I noticed all of these small, mesh-enclosed areas strewn around the field. It turns out they are part of a study having to do with insects.

“The primary crux of the research is really asking a big question about climate change,” said Nathalie Sommer, a PhD candidate with the Yale School of the Environment. She says the dozens and dozens of enclosures contain plants, grasshoppers, and spiders. “We are looking at the food web and we are looking at it over a period of five years to really see how climate variability impacts food web functioning as well as ecosystem processes.”

They chose those arthropods because their bodies are particularly sensitive to temperature changes and because researchers have a large amount of background data already on the species, so they can then compare the results. “We have about 20 years of data of historical data on this system, so we can really narrow in on the climate question specifically,” Sommer said.

This site isn’t the only kind where this research is being done. Eight sites between South Burlington and Connecticut are being used to take a look at a broader area of the Northeast. “South Burlington is an amazing site. It’s our northernmost site, which means it is both the coldest and has the most climate variability,” Sommer said.

The Hubbard Natural Area’s size didn’t hurt either, leaving them plenty of space to set up all of these enclosures. They’re monitored frequently by researchers for changes in temperature and soil composition, and to make sure outside predators don’t break through the insect-proof mesh. “We have had a little bit of trouble with birds. Birds get excited because they see the grasshoppers in there and sometimes they will come and poke holes in it,” Sommer said.

At the end of the five-year study, Sommer says they should be able to predict what will happen with these key species under extreme climate variabiltiy.

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