$2.5 Million Grant Funds Garden Array to Study Climate Change


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Northern Arizona University’s (NAU’s) College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences a four-year, $2.5 million grant to create the Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA).

SEGA will be a system of 10 experimental gardens across northern Arizona thatincludes habitat types from desert to alpine forests. The gardens will be used to examine how climate change will affect the ecology and evolution of individual plant species, plant communities, and ecosystems.


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Planting a common garden.

 “This facility holds the potential to create breakthroughs in our understanding of the genetic consequences of climate change on plants,” said NAU Regents' Biology Professor Tom Whitham, executive director of NAU’s Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research and the project’s principal investigator. “It will serve as model for the future and the start of an international effort for similar experimental arrays.””

Raising the same plant genotypes (plants with the same genetic makeup) at different elevations, with different temperatures and moisture levels,  will allow scientists to examine how different genotypes perform under different climatic conditions. This should help identify those genotypes that are most likely to survive and reproduce in a rapidly changing climate and improve the success of efforts to restore ecosystems damaged by extreme disturbances such as severe drought and fire. 

The 10 gardens in the array will be established in partnership with the Arboretum at Flagstaff, National Forest Service, National Park Service, Babbitt Ranches, the Nature Conservancy, and Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research.

Coprincipal investigators on the NSF grant are NAU professors Paul Flikkema, electrical and computer engineering; professor George Koch, biological sciences; assistant research professor Amy Whipple, biological sciences; and Brian Geils, USDA Forest Service.

--Adapted from “Inside NAU”