Skip to main content

Turning Up The Heat to Study Climate Change

climate chamber
Turning up the heat in these climate chambers allows researchers to study the effects of climate change on ants. Photo by Neil McCoy.

It’s getting really hot in forests located in Orange County, N.C., and Petersham, Mass.

NC State biologist Rob Dunn and colleagues are turning up the heat in Duke Forest and Harvard Forest – the southern and northern edges of many animal species habitats – to  learn more about the effects of climate change, particularly on ants. Dunn says ants can serve as important model animals – think of them as outdoor lab rats – to understand more about possible impacts of warmer temperatures to the movement and distribution of different types of animals.

Will warming bring more invasive fire ants to Harvard Forest, and will those ants outcompete the “good” ants currently living there? Will ant distribution change seed dispersal patterns and therefore how certain plants grow in the forest? Will certain birds disappear if their main meal – the ant – disappears?

The researchers have just completed the “climate chambers” in the two forests. The chambers will fire up portions of the forests – some sections will see increased temperatures of 7 or 8 degrees Celsius.

The five-year study is funded with $3 million from the Department of Energy.