To integrate genetics and climate change research, the Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA), combines reciprocal transplant and provenance trial experimental designs with state-of-the-art multi-factor climate change manipulations. This facility will allow research that scales from genes to ecosystems to test the genetic basis of plant performance along environmental gradients. This facility allows users to test the fundamental hypothesis that a genetic by environment approach is central to understanding climate change impacts on the biomes of the world, and feedbacks of these biomes to the climate system. Such studies will become essential if managed translocation strategies are adopted. The potential of this powerful experimental approach, so successfully used in agriculture, has not been realized in climate change research. It requires an integration of genetics with community ecology, ecosystem science, climatology, and land management, disciplines that have traditionally lacked a genetics perspective. The promise of this approach is demonstrated by reciprocal transplant experiments showing that locally adapted tree species are now becoming locally "maladapted" due to strong genetic interactions with the environment, which in turn affects hundreds of associated species. Using a series of 10 common gardens (5 in each of two soil types) along an elevation gradient from desert to mountain forest ecosystems, this facility provides the basis of a new generation of climate change research. For example, using reciprocal transplants of the same plant genotypes, researchers from multiple disciplines will quantify the ecological and evolutionary impacts of climate change on 1) foundation plant species that drive their respective ecosystems, 2) their associated arthropod, microbial, and understory communities that depend upon these plants for their survival, 3) native-exotic species interactions, and 4) the ecosystem processes that emerge from these interactions. This facility will enable identification of physiological mechanisms that underlie differential species and genotype performance under current and future climatic conditions. Plant performance results from the array will allow modelers to incorporate a genetic algorithm to calibrate models and to predict vegetation shifts and whole community responses to climate changes. Because the southwestern USA is experiencing some of the highest levels of climate-change impacts in North America, our garden array can serve a regional as well as a global role in addressing the gene by environment interactions that are likely to reshape biotic communities this century.
This garden array will provide genetics information for scientists to make better informed predictions of the impact of climate change on individual species, communities, and ecosystems, which in turn will inform land management and restoration projects. Our array will: 1) provide a scientific basis for the concept of managed translocation, 2) identify drought tolerant genotypes and source population(s) that perform best at a given location for current and expected future climatic conditions, and 3) help develop techniques for managing invasive species that have benefited from climate change. This facility will enhance existing and new education programs and efforts to recruit and retain students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Under-graduates and graduate students will use these sites for their own research. Our sites at The Arboretum at Flagstaff and Wupatki National Monument will provide public outreach to 100,000 plus annual visitors. Stakeholders include 11 Research and Education Centers at NAU, USFS, NPS, TNC, USGS, BLM, Babbitt Ranches, and international collaborators. SEGA will serve as a model for proposed arrays worldwide.