Harnessing trait-based plant combinations to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under current and future climatic conditions
Postdoctoral project with Prof. Dr. Gerlinde De Deyn, Prof. Dr. Jan Willem van Groenigen, and Dr. Diego Abalos (Aahrus University)
It is an age of extremes. The climate is rapidly changing due to emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. And as the climate changes, extreme weather events – droughts and floods – are becoming more frequent and severe, threatening natural and agricultural ecosystems. Intensively managed grasslands are ecologically and economically important agroecosystems that account for nearly half of all agricultural land. These grasslands provide many ecosystem services (carbon storage in their soils, water filtration, habitat for biodiversity), but are also a large source the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide due to inputs of nitrogen fertilizer or manure. Flooding threatens to exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions from these grasslands by dramatically increasing nitrous oxide emissions when water availability increases and oxygen is still available, and could switch grasslands from a methane sink to a methane source when saturated. This is alarming, and calls management practices that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions instigated by flooding and drying cycles.
Greenhouse gas emissions could be mitigated during flooding is by creating smart mixtures of plant species based on their traits related to flood tolerance and resource acquisition. The main aim of our research is to understand how intensively managed grasslands can be designed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions during variable climatic conditions. A second key aim is to identify the factors underlying plant community resilience to climate extremes: how grasslands primary productivity resists and recovers from a flood disturbance. To meet these aims, we will link plant trait-based approaches and plant-soil interactions to nitrogen cycling and plant community resilience. We will test if specific combinations of plant species can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and increase plant community resilience due to the combination of their traits.
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