If you go hiking in the Duke Forest on the edge of Durham, North Carolina, you might stumble on an ecosystem of the future. To study how climate change will affect ecology decades from now, biologist Rob Dunn of North Carolina State University is putting his lab to work building miniature versions of warmer worlds in the forests of Massachusetts and North Carolina. Hot air is pumped into plastic chambers located around trees, creating a small-scale model of climate change.
A difference of 4 or 5 degrees Fahrenheit, as we might see in a century or so, will have a profound effect on nature and the environment. To project how the world—humanity included—will fare in the future, Dunn’s lab is studying what happens to insect species with what we might consider relatively minor temperature changes. The answer, of course, is nothing good, but the researchers might be able to uncover subtle alterations to ecosystems that people might not otherwise notice in the midst of a changing world.