The Southwest Experimental Garden Array, or SEGA, is a new genetics-based climate change research platform that allows scientists to quantify the ecological and evolutionary responses of species to changing climate conditions using emerging technologies. SEGA was initiated in 2012 with $4 million in seed funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Northern Arizona University to create a system of 10 gardens along the elevation gradient in northern Arizona. Because temperature and moisture predictably change with elevation, these gardens reflect climatic differences from desert to alpine forests that mimic the effects of climate change. Because this effort ultimately seeks to improve on-the-ground management, the SEGA gardens are sited on federal and private lands where stakeholders are anxious to incorporate the best science into management actions.
SEGA cyberinfrastructure (CI) will form a critical component of SEGA’s network of experimental gardens. It will be a fully integrated cyber-physical design, with physical control of temperature across a 1500-m elevational gradient and cyber control of water availability using a sensor-actuator network. The sensor-actuator network will, in addition to supporting garden- and plot-level sensing of key ecological variables, facilitate precise control of irrigation at individual plants, allowing design of experiments that combine control of temperature and water availability. Among its innovations are a modular, parallel-processing and energy-aware node hardware design allowing real-time sensing and actuation. Each garden will be connected to the internet via cellular or satellite modems, and all sensing and actuation will be backed by centralized systems for data processing, archival, visualization, analysis, and automatic control. The in situ and centralized CI will together make possible inter-garden experiments that reveal the separate and combined effects of temperature and rainfall on plant and plant community growth and survival. The CI is designed to enable future extensions to additional gardens and new experimental designs, including subtractive control of precipitation using active rain-out shelters and plant-level control of air or soil temperature.