Penn Scientists Receive Five-Year, $2.5 Million Grant to Study Climate Change in Mongolia

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Media Contact:Jordan Reese | | 215-573-6604October 17, 2007

PHILADELPHIA - A team of ecologists and evolutionary biologists from the University of Pennsylvania has received a five-year, approximately $2.5 million grant to examine the ecological and societal consequences of increased grazing and rising temperatures in the Lake Hvsgl region of northern Mongolia.

Increases in temperature and in the length of the growing season are already apparent in that region of the world, and climate change models predict further increases.  The goal of Penns research is to understand how the basic ecology of the region will respond to global warming and to inform governmental policy being prepared on land preservation and management in Mongolia.  

Our findings should be of special interest to both scientists and governmental officials concerned with the impacts of climate change on the environment and the livelihood of local people, said Peter Petraitis, one of the principal investigators and a professor of biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn.

The project is funded by Partnerships for International Research and Education, a program of the National Science Foundation whose mission is to foster cultural exchange between U.S. and foreign institutions by establishing models for international collaborative research and education.

The research conducted in Penns project could be translated to any geographic region facing rapid shifts in environmental conditions.The project focuses on understanding the effects of grazing and climate change in a region used by nomadic herders and home to two important ecosystems, the taiga forest and steppe grasslands.  Researchers will perform experiments and develop models to learn more about the complex interactions among climate change, land use and movements of nomadic herders and basic ecosystem processes.  The team will monitor meteorological conditions, permafrost depth, hydrological and carbon cycles and activities of nomad families and their livestock.

Controlled experiments in the field will examine how elevated temperature combined with grazing affect plant community composition, plant phenology, productivity, litter decomposition and soil respiration.  The project also addresses long-term responses of the forest ecosystem by examining carbon and oxygen isotope ratios of tree rings, leading to a better understanding of the history of the regions climate and current ecosystem sustainability.

The Penn scientists will collaborate with other ecologists, evolutionists and anthropologists at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, the Mongolia University of Science and Technology and the National University of Mongolia.  The research will involve undergraduates and graduate students from both the U.S. and Mongolia.  U.S. scientists will also run educational workshops on ecology, evolutionary biology and statistics that are underrepresented in the Mongolian curriculum.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundations Office of International Science and Engineering, the NSF Biocomplexity Initiative and the Ecosystem Science cluster of the Division of Environmental Biology in the Directorate of Biological Sciences.