The Utrecht University Biodiversity and Climate Variability Experiment, UU BioCliVE, is an experiment manipulating plant diversity and future precipitation scenarios to examine how biological diversity can provide us with natural insurance against climate change.
The experiment was set up in May 2017 at the Utrecht University Botanical Gardens. The experiment was set up in May 2017 at the Utrecht University Botanical Gardens. It is a collaborative effort of the researchers at the Ecology & Biodiversity group of the Department of Biology at Utrecht University. Researchers from other institutes are welcome to join.
Ecosystems of the future
Two of the most pressing issues facing our environment are climate change and biodiversity loss. Human activities are resulting in a sharp decline in biodiversity, while at the same time, climate change is impacting the world's ecosystems. It has long been assumed that biodiversity can help ecosystems be more resistant to climate change, but to what extend and how this occurs remains unknown. UU BioCliVE mimics ecosystems of the future, thereby allowing us to understand the mechanisms by which biodiversity helps to buffer ecosystems against potential harmful effects of climate change. Such knowledge will be critical as we develop management plans for the future that help to maintain biodiversity and preserve ecosystem functioning.
The long-term experiment uses 352 containers, each with 1000 liters of soil, to precisely construct grassland ecosystems that represent a gradient of biodiversity. By using such large constructed ecosystems, we can precisely manipulate our grassland communities, while achieving a realistic scale that allows for real-life ecosystem interactions. At the same time, we can impose future climate conditions that for instance change precipitations patterns, which for the Netherlands means drier summers and wetter winters, where extreme rainfall and drought events occur more often.
The experimental grasslands represent riverine grassland communities, characteristic of periodically flooded sandy soils ('glanshaverhooiland' in Dutch). The containers have different levels of plant diversity: they contain 1, 4, 8 or 12 species of grasses and forbs. Using this experimental plant species richness gradient, we can study the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning during the climate manipulations we apply.
This important experiment is funded by the Ecology & Biodiversity group, the Department of Biology, and by private donors. We warmly thank everyone who contributed to our experiment and are grateful for each donation to support our research. Should you wish to contribute to our research in BioCliVE with a donation, please contact one of the member of the Steering committee.
Steering committee (in alphabetical order)
Current and former PhD students working on BioCliVE
2021-2025: Shengnan Wang (Vicky)
Current and former MSc students working on BioCliVE
2022: Noor van den Berg, Wouter Kelderman, Sibel Safak, Mink Verschoor
2021: Julia Mayr, Jelyn Gerkema, Laura Kuiper, and Jeanette Morren.
2020: Jasmijn Otte, Jorrit van Toll, Lingxiao Zhang, Ramoeni Luimes, and Tianyun Zong.
2019: Alex Vanier, Huib van de Haar, Jente Kraal, Rien Lettink, and Zonglun Li.
2018: Laura McManus
2017: Jasper van Straeten and Jeroen Jonkers.
In the news
- Trouw.nl Op zoek naar het ideale grasland dat CO2 opslaat en hoosbuien opvangt (Dutch)
- npo2 on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igtCkmduhyY (Dutch)
- npo2 - https://www.npostart.nl/vroege-vogels/12-11-2021/BV_101404898 (Dutch)
- uu.nl - Utrecht researchers construct ecosystem of the future (English)
- uu.nl - Utrechtse onderzoekers bouwen ecosysteem van de toekomst (Dutch)
- uu.nl - Biodiversiteit beschermt graslanden tegen extreme droogte (Dutch)
- phys.org: Dutch researchers construct ecosystem of the future (English)
- uu.nl - ‘Life on land’: one large interconnected ecosystem of flora and fauna (English)
- nu.nl - Zo beschermt biodiversiteit de natuur tegen schadelijke klimaateffecten (Dutch)
Link with natural grasslands
BioCliVE allows to precisely construct future grassland ecosystems and thus to demonstrate causal inter-relationships between biodiversity, climate change and functioning. However, despite being as close as possible to natural grasslands, it is a constructed artificial system. We will thus validate our results by comparing our data with a similar climate change experiment that we set up in a semi-natural grassland. With these two experiments we will advance our understanding of ecosystem resistance and resilience to extreme climate events.
Drought experiment Fort Rhijnauwen
In 2015, we established a new climate change experiment at Fort Rhijnauwen manipulating a major driver of change within grassland - drought. We exclude rainfall with rainout shelters such that precipitation is reduced by a constant percentage. This experiment will contribute to the Drought-Net International Drought Experiment that uses standardized methods to simulate drought and therefore allows comparison of ecosystem responses worldwide.
The experiment consists of four treatments replicated in a randomized block design, with three blocks of four plots for a total of 12 plots. The four treatments are:
- Reduced annual precipitation: This treatment simulates a reduction of precipitation throughout the year corresponding to the lowest yearly amount of precipitation received during the last 60 years of local precipitation records. At our site this correspond to 50% reduction of rainfall year-round.
- Seasonal shift in precipitation: This treatment simulates a change in precipitation pattern throughout the year with wetter winters and dryer summers. Dryer summers consist of 90% reduction of rainfall in the summer months (June, July and August) of each year and wetter winters consist of adding the amount of precipitation that was removed in summer during the winter months (November to March).
- Infrastructure control: This treatment allows us to account for the side effects created by the structure of the shelters (e.g. heat, moisture, light).
- Ambient control: This is the unsheltered control receiving ambient precipitation.
Plots have been hydrologically isolated by trenching to a depth of 50 cm along the border of each shelter and control plots.
Each year, we measure the impact of drought on plant diversity, on the cycle of carbon and on the stability of biomass production.