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Heat waves stunt grassland growth

One hot year can create a scenario that stifles prairie plants even after the heat wave

12:30pm, September 17, 2008

An abnormally hot year can significantly suppress the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide that grasslands can absorb, new experiments suggest.

And the effect can linger for months after temperatures return to normal, the researchers report in the Sept. 18 Nature.

The long-term effects on carbon uptake seen in this experiment “are a dramatic reminder of the fragility of ecosystems that are key players in global carbon sequestration,” says lead author and ecosystem analyst Jay Arnone of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.

Grasslands and their soils are considered a major sink for excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. Such natural carbon sponges, if they continue to thrive, could help alleviate the warming effects of manmade CO2 emissions.

The tests, which evaluated the carbon uptake by a dozen samples of Oklahoma grassland, took place in climate-controlled chambers larger than railroad boxca

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