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Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2023

The impact of winter climate change on plant germination: a comparison of native and non-native prairie species

Sarah Wood

Sawyer Wittman


Prairie ecosystems are some of the most fragmented habitats in Wisconsin and are greatly susceptible to the effects of climate change. The Midwest has seen some of the most extreme changes in weather patterns throughout the winter months, and more ecological research is needed to investigate the effects within this region. Winters are not only getting warmer, but becoming more variable as well. False springs occur when temperatures rise unseasonably early, followed by low temperatures returning. Similarly, a late freeze event can happen when temperatures drop drastically in early spring, potentially damaging the plants that begin to grow. Both of these weather events can impact plant growth and survival. This research experimentally tests how winter climate change may affect the germination rates of four native prairie species and 10 invasive, “weedy” species. We will test how their seeds react to a series of experimental temperature treatments that simulate projected winter climate change. By comparing our findings, we aim to further our understanding of how different prairie plants react to changing winter weather conditions. As climate change becomes more drastic and unpredictable, it is important that we evaluate all potential outcomes to assess how future climate events may alter prairie ecosystems.

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