AMES, Iowa, July 7 (UPI) -- Studying drought effects on a pristine ecosystem could show how climate change may affect flora and fauna diversity, an Iowa State University researcher said.
Researcher Diane Debinski has studied meadows in the Rocky Mountains' Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since the 1990s, finding that if the area's climate becomes drier as the Earth's temperature rises, it could change the types of plants and animals living there, the Ames, Iowa, university said Tuesday in a release.
To study the potential effects of climate change, Debinski conducted large-scale, long-term observational studies of the plant and insect communities in 55 mountainous meadows in the ecosystem. She studied six different types of meadows ranging from dry to wet.
Debinski and colleagues measured changes in the plant community from 1997 to 2007, which included an extended drought, and recently published their findings in the journal Ecology.
Debinski said the shrubs growing in the drier meadows increased, while flowering plants decreased.
"In these meadows, as water became more scarce, that means less moisture for the plants," she said. "The flowering plants don't grow as well and therefore don't provide as much food to the animals. These types of changes in the plants could affect populations of elk, bison, as well as many other smaller animals, including insects."
Debinski also examined which meadow type was most vulnerable to change, determining medium-moisture meadows -- neither wet nor dry -- are in the biggest danger of change.
"If wet meadows get a little drier, they're still wet," she said. "If dry meadows get a little drier, they are still dry. But the meadows with a medium amount of wetness are the ones that may be changing most."