Estonia's stand at Science and You invites visitors to discover plant secrets

(Veiko Lippand/Minupilt.err.ee)
5/27/2015 12:04 PM
Category: Environment

Estonia's stand "Plants and the Planet" at the Science and You fair at Nancy, France, focuses on the field of ecology and environment, inviting visitors to a real forest. The display aims to give insight into how knowing more about the stress that trees experience is an important source of information when it comes to understanding and combating climate change and global warming.

Remember the last time you were walking in a forest? Remember how nice the forest smelled? The Estonian stand at the international Science and You conference gives visitors an opportunity to experience those scents again, as it will feature live plants. But more importantly, the stand gives visitors an opportunity to find out more about those scents can indicate whether the trees are under stress or not. Understanding this provides researchers with vital information on climate change and how to tackle it.

"We decided to focus on plants as environmental and plant sciences are the most cited research fields in Estonia," Liis Livin from Estonian Research Council explained why Research in Estonia decided to invite visitors to a forest and focus on plants and the planet at its stand. "Climate is always a hot topic as it affects us all and those who come after us; it affects us as a species. We have such a first-hand contact with plants and climate that it’s difficult not to talk about it."

Ülo Niinemets, perhaps one of the most renowned Estonian scientists in the field, has been a pioneer in researching the stress in plants to understand what kind of effect this could have on climate change. Sounds crazy? Well, it isn't, say the scientists, explaining that when plants and trees experience stress, they emit certain compounds to the environment to let the surroundings know what they need and how they feel, signalling, for example, that they are thirsty and need water.

"Plants have always had to deal with stress, it’s just that the topic has not been very widely discussed or researched before in association with climate change," said Liisa Kübarsepp, one of the PhD students who will be working at the stand. "Climate models used to be based on the chemical composition of gases in the atmosphere and how currents move in the ocean. Lately there has been more thinking in the lines that the changes in climate also have an effect on the plants. They experience stress, just like people do.”

There are several projects in Estonia trying to analyse how climate change – and the stress that comes with it – affects plants. For example, at a SMEAR station (Station for Measuring Ecosystem–Atmosphere Relations) in Järvselja, Estonia, scientists monitor wind speed, movement of air, gas composition of air, water vapour and CO2 levels. All this provides them a better understanding on how our forests interact with the environment.

Another group of Estonian researchers is trying to determine what would happen to trees if, all of a sudden, they were forced to survive in a significantly more humid environment – a situation which, due to global warming, could soon be a reality. As part of the FAHM project (Free Air Humidification Manipulation), trees are sprayed with additional water, creating a more humid environment for them to live in. Similar experiments have been done previously with CO2, but never with water.

"The preliminary results have shown that although it would be logical to assume that more humidity ensures better growth, this is not the case. The plants have not adapted so well to this new environment and they have several problems," Kübarsepp said, adding that all this and much more will be explained thourghly by the team at the booth, in a way understandable for all.

Research in Estonia’s stand "Plants and the Planet" will be open at the Science and You forum area in Nancy, France, from June 3-5.

This article was first published on Research in Estonia website.

M. Oll

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