January 20, 2021

The Living Lab experiment creating drought at ASP

If you’ve been to Amsterdam Science Park lately, you may have noticed new life gathering on the green. Over 200 large plant pots arrived in late 2020 and took up residence on the open grass at the park, arranged into neat rows. The pots (220 of them, to be exact) all contain different grassland plant communities and are the subject of a four-year ‘Living Lab’ experiment by UvA’s Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics (ELD) department, studying the effect of drought on plant-microbe interactions in grassland ecosystems.

The open-air experiment is being conducted by PhD student Eileen Enderle and will be a long-term feature of the park, staying in place for the next three years as part of an ERC starting grant project of Prof. Franciska de Vries. During their time at ASP, the plants will be exposed to different drought conditions to characterise shifts in plant-soil interactions.

Climate change

Increasingly, extreme drought events caused by climate change are having terrible consequences for agriculture and threatening the stability of our ecosystems. “Understanding how drought affects interactions within ecosystems allows us to better predict consequences of climate change, but also to determine factors contributing to ecosystem stability to mitigate these effects,” says Enderle. “I hope to be able to explain why some plant species are able to endure drought better than others and grow back faster after the drought period ends”.

Eileen Enderle, PhD student “It is a great opportunity to make science more visible at the Science Park, and to display the project to students, staff and visitors of the University ”

Ecosystems big and small

Enderle’s grassland ecosystems find a suitable home amongst the innovative ecosystem of Amsterdam Science Park. Enderle says: “The location next to the greenhouse and close to the labs is perfect to quickly transfer samples and reach all equipment easily. In addition, it is a great opportunity to make science more visible at the Science Park, and to display the project to students, staff and visitors of the University.”

But setting up an experiment of this scale amidst the Covid-19 crisis can’t have been easy. “Starting a project which needs a lot of organisation and without being present most of the time was definitely a challenge,” says Enderle. “Other than that, I think it is a great place to work with a lot of potential for interdisciplinary research.”

And if you’re wondering how one goes about creating drought conditions in the Netherlands? “Well, I have to admit,” says Enderle, “when we were filling pots and planting hundreds of seedlings in streaming rain it did not feel like I would be setting up a drought experiment. But at least it is likely that the control treatment receives enough rainfall. To mimic drought, the plan is to set up rain-out shelters this Spring, which will allow the light to go through, but keep the plants dry.”

PhD student Eileen Enderle

Say hello

Because the project is out in the open air, anybody is welcome to come and have a look any time, and Enderle is happy to answer any questions whenever she is on site. For more updates, you can follow her on Twitter.

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