GradImpact: Understanding How Climate Change May Profoundly Impact an Ecosystem

    When studying climate change and potential consequences of rising temperatures, research on silicon is often overlooked by ecologists. Silica (the combination of silicon and oxygen) is more often an emphasis in science fields focused in water ecosystems: oceanography, marine biology, etc. Tim Maguire, a PhD candidate in biology at Boston University, decided to investigate the effects climate change is having on silica production in trees, and what he discovered is cause for concern.


    Maguire has focused his work on sugar maple trees and their root systems. Trees act like pumps for silica: they suck it up from groundwater, convert it to a usable form, and then either store it or release it back into the ecosystem. Maguire’s work, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, found that sugar maples seem to pump more silica than originally anticipated. In addition, they appear to be more susceptible to the effects of climate change: rising temperatures lead to less snow accumulation which leads to root exposure and subsequent root damage.


    So, what does this mean? In individual trees, silica plays many roles included providing structure to leaves, strong root systems, and protection from infections like fungi. At the ecosystem level, the potential effects have greater consequences: trees won’t pump enough silica required to maintain the marsh and ocean ecosystems. “A lot of times, when you do these types of studies, you get a statistical result that doesn’t amount to much in the real world,” says Maguire. “This is not the case here.” To learn more about Tim’s work, visit the Boston University website.



    **Photo Credit: Boston University


    The CGS GRADIMPACT project draws from member examples to tell the larger story of graduate education. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of graduate education not only to degree holders, but also to the communities where we live and work. Do you have a great story to share about the impact of master’s or doctoral education? Visit our WEBSITE for more information.


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