The3DLab member Ronja got interviewed for a podcast at her university in Trondheim! A very nice summary of her research. You can find the podcast here, or on Spotify!
The podcast investigates the environmental impacts of hiking trails in the Trondheim area. Norwegians are active practitioners of “friluftsliv” and hiking is one of the most popular activities. Ronja Wedegärtner, Ph.D. candidate at NTNU, discusses the influences of hiking trails on vegetation shifts in mountains in the Northern Scandes, giving away some cool insights about her PhD-research!
Want the scoop of some of the most fascinating results from her work, then this podcast is a must-listen!
Saving the world isn’t rocket science
The rapid growth and challenges related to agriculture, urbanization, tourism and human-wildlife conflicts require knowledge to take action. Listening to this podcast, you will be updated on state-of-the-art science related to issues in Trondheim. “Saving the World isn’t Rocket Science” shares knowledge from the science community by interviewing local researchers about sustainability problems in Trondheim and possible solutions.
In a recent study co-authored by The3DLab-member Ronja Wedegärtner, a team of researchers have mapped invasive plants on Svalbard, and the results leave no doubt; alien plants grow where humans have been.
The research team found 36 alien plant species, which grew exclusively in areas with human activity. Both around tourist attractions in settlements, and where there has previously been farming.
All of this might sound minor – finding 36 alien plant species should not be that much work, right? – yet the remoteness and challenging working conditions on Svalbard make organized alien species inventories far from straightforward. With this new study, the researchers finally provided a benchmark for continuous monitoring, that will greatly facilitate keeping track of changing biodiversity in the Arctic in the future.
These are scary and exciting moments, where we can follow in real-time if the connection of the sensors to the Orange Internet of Things-network are successful. As you can see on the right here, things are starting to look good, with already almost half of the sensors successfully installed.
Don’t underestimate that achievement: this is by far the largest IoT-sensor network that the country has ever seen, and we are thus truly technological pioneers.
But all is working relatively smoothly, while microclimate sensors are popping up in gardens across the whole region. Here at home, there was a little scientist helping out in any case (one that especially loves the little blinking lights that comes when sensors fail to connect to the network and, believe me, we have seen plenty of those during development!)
Location selection was done using our recently published selection algorithm that maximizes environmental heterogeneity. Hence the higher density of points in the more complex southern half of the region, and in urban centers.
Finally, below a sneak peek of the dashboard where participants will be able to follow the patterns in their own data, and how those compare with the rest of the region (available for participants from April 6th).
We need a different kind of weather station networks to answer most ecological questions. We argue that what we need is countrywide ‘microclimate networks’, that measure weather conditions there where they matter for ecology and nature around us.
Where weather stations are insufficient
To measure global weather and climate, the world is increasingly covered by a network of weather or meteorological stations. On land, these stations are designed in such a way that it ensures all stations, whether in Belgium or Brazil, are recording climate in the same standardized manner: in open landscapes, above short grass, and well away from trees, buildings or mountains. While macro-meteorologists, those who design these networks, did their best to remove these local sources of “noise” in the data, these sources of “noise” are meaningful to many organisms. For example, although trees may cause chaos for meteorologists, because forest cover interrupts and changes local temperatures, these differences in forest cover between for example a beech forest in Flanders and a dense tropical forest in the Amazon rainforest of South America have huge meaning and importance for the animals and plants that live there. As a result, our current weather station network is ill-equipped to provide meaningful data to scientists wanting to know how climate impacts biodiversity.
To do: build countrywide microclimate networks
A call to action has been made in a recently published study, which calls for a globally coordinated effort to create a new kind of weather station network – one that can tell us what a small lizard is ‘feeling’ in the remotest of habitats. We strongly believe that the world needs microclimate networks in parallel to the existing countrywide weather station network as established by national meteorological institutes, such as the RMI in Belgium. We also believe that we need to be quick about it. In their recent publication, the ecologists stress their case. Actually, we need two things: mini weather stations that measure conditions close to and in the soil, and a network of these sensors that measures in the most relevant environments. From cities to the countryside, from forests to mountain slopes, all those locations traditionally avoided by weather stations should be preferentially sampled by these new microclimate networks. By implementing this kind of network, we will be better equipped to understand climate change impacts on species, ecosystems and our agricultural systems.
To achieve these countrywide microclimate networks, we provide a handy algorithm to decide where exactly these new networks should come. It selects measurement locations based on the expected microclimate variability of a region, by selecting locations in as broad a range of landscape types as possible. For this, we use a multivariate analysis of the environmental space, based on characteristics from which we know that they matter for microclimate: topography, vegetation cover, urbanity, macroclimate. The algorithm quantifies the distribution of these habitats across the country or region and proposes a set of locations that maximally covers this variability with as few measurement locations as possible.
Next up? Implementation! We hope that governments, scientists or anybody else pay heat to our plea for microclimate networks and use our proposed selection tool to implement them in their own region. As such, we reach out to anybody else to start thinking on this parallel network of microclimate sensors to complement the global weather station network.
With the global SoilTemp-network, we made a great start in that regard, bringing together microclimate data from over 13.000 sensors from over 60 countries. The algorithm proposed here can however help us to switch gears even more, and design these networks specifically with microclimate measuring and global and regional coverage of microhabitats in mind.
We also already have a first example to showcase their approach: the new citizen science project ‘Nosy parkers in the garden’ ( www.curieuzeneuzen.be/home-en) has used it to select gardens for their project on heat and drought impacts on lawns. In this large citizen science project, 4400 citizens were asked to install a mini weather station (‘the garden dagger’) in their garden to measure the impact of heat and drought on urban environments.
Imagine: it’s a hot summer day. You’re sweating away in an urban apartment. Perhaps ice-cream would come to mind, or a dive in a swimming pool. Or a nice stroll through a lush and cool summer forest. Yes, that last one could be a great solution as well: forest microclimates contrast strongly with the climate outside forests, and on a bright summer day that difference could be up to several degrees Celsius. However, the climate inside forests is significantly more complicated than simply this air-conditioning on a hot summer day. Nevertheless, it is crucial for the understanding of the biodiversity and functioning of our forests to get to this true forest microclimate and integrate it into our ecological research.
Despite the potentially broad impact of this microclimate on the response of forest ecosystems to global change, we have long lacked a good idea of how microclimates within and below tree canopies drive nature’s response to global change. Recently, however, the importance of microclimate has moved firmly into the spotlights (see e.g. Zellweger et al. 2020, Lembrechts and Nijs 2020), and our understanding of what climate means below our forest canopies has been rapidly increasing.
With a team of (forest) microclimate experts, we decided we’d have to sit together and ‘take the temperature’ of what we know and what we don’t about forest microclimates. We met in a beautiful mansion in the middle of Sweden during a winter snowstorm February 2020 (for many of us the last time we got another view than our own home office as soon after the world got into lockdown). In that inspiring atmosphere, we discussed our current knowledge on forest microclimate and set a first step towards a paper summarizing that knowledge. That paper is now out for all to read!
In this review paper, we explain how variation in forest microclimates over space and time results from an interplay of forest features, topography and landscape composition. We stress and exemplify the importance of considering forest microclimates to understand variation in biodiversity and ecosystem functions across forest landscapes. Next, we explain how macroclimate warming (of the free atmosphere) can affect microclimates, and vice versa, via interactions with land-use changes across different biomes. We summarize all drivers of forest microclimate to provide a good idea of the many factors at play and how they are influencing the outcome (as shown in the figure below).
Finally, we wanted to know what had to come next. With all those present at the meeting in this beautiful and peaceful Swedish mansion, we did a priority ranking of future research questions at the interface of microclimate ecology and global change biology. We realized progress was needed (and luckily soon to be expected) on three key themes: (1) disentangling the drivers and feedbacks of forest microclimates; (2) global and regional mapping and predictions of forest microclimates; and (3) the impacts of microclimate on forest biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in the face of climate change.
We end with a very positive note: good microclimate data is increasingly becoming available (see e.g. Lembrechts et al. 2020), opening the door to accurate and trustworthy models of climate variability at spatial and temporal scales relevant to our forests. This will revolutionize our understanding of the dynamics, drivers and implications of forest microclimates on biodiversity and ecological functions, and the impacts of global change. Yet this data is coming not a minute too late, as it is urgently needed to support the sustainable use of forests and to secure their biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations. Together, and with good data at hand, we can make that last point a reality.
Cycle from the city to a nearby nature reserve during a hot summer day, and you’ll immediately notice a few degrees difference. The higher temperatures are a result of the urban heat island effect. Smart urban planning with room for greenery and water can help to counteract this urban fever. Natural areas close to the city may also provide natural air conditioning.
Together with nature conservation organization Natuurpunt, CurieuzeNeuzen investigates how natural areas can take up their role as natural climate buffer and air conditioning for our living environment. Stefan Versweyveld, head of the Projects Department of Natuurpunt: “We are looking for answers to questions such as: is the cooling effect of a nature reserve greater close to the city than further away from it? Is the cooling effect of natural areas perceptible in the surrounding gardens?” Therefore, researcher Stijn Van de Vondel (University of Antwerp) will install 200 “garden daggers” in nature reserves across the province of Antwerp. The results will be compared with measured values in nearby gardens.
It is mainly the wetlands that can play a role in cooling our cities in summer. Stefan: “Wetlands provide very important ecosystem services. They retain water in the event of severe drought, replenish the groundwater level, mitigate flooding during heavy rainfall, and possibly play a crucial role in cooling our warm urban environment during heat waves.” Because Flanders has lost some 75% of its wetlands over the past 60 years, Natuurpunt has started the ‘Wetlands4Cities’ project: restoring and creating existing and new wetlands to give a boost to wetlands in urbanized areas. “CuriousNoses in the Garden now makes it possible to start effectively quantifying the cooling ecosystem services of wetlands.”
The management of these nature reserves is in the hands of Natuurpunt’s voluntary nature managers. They are responsible for the purchase, management and opening up of 25,000 hectares of Flemish nature. And it is these volunteers who will follow up the measurements in the field.
“The volunteer nature managers are very involved in their nature reserves,” says Stefan. “They observe the negative effects of climate change and desiccation on a daily basis. It poses great challenges to them and to us: mowing seasons have to be brought forward, large summer floods send site management into disarray, and the absence of frosts prevents ice mowing.” *
Through the dashboard, the nature managers themselves gain insight into the state of their area. “Because good water management in a nature area is crucial for plants and animals, our managers also already monitor water levels at regular intervals to keep track of their evolution. The soil sensors and the associated Internet of Things technology from the citizen science project ‘CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin’ will be of great benefit. After all, the data are immediately available, and in this way we can monitor the situation much more closely. We therefore expect to use more of these new monitoring techniques in the future. Our volunteers are therefore enthusiastic to participate in the project.”