My Spartan Summer: Creating drought conditions

The KBS LTER is featured in MSU Today’s “My Spartan Summer”. Original story, by Beth Brauer, can be found here.

For more than 30 years, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, has been part of the national Long-Term Ecological Research network, where MSU researchers have studied the effects of land use intensity in agricultural landscapes on yield, soil health, food webs and more.

Led by MSU professor and principal investigator Nick Haddad, the MSU Kellogg Biological Research Station’s Long-Term Ecological Research team has discovered that no-till agriculture increases soil health and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, all while increasing agricultural yield. This summer, the team embarked upon a new experiment to find out how resilient different land uses are in response to growing-season drought.

Since drought-like conditions do not happen on command, KBS faculty, staff and students rolled up their sleeves to construct rainout shelters, which are, as the name suggests, shelters that prevent rain from hitting the ground.

An aerial view of the KBS LTER rainout shelters. Each of the 3 shelters receives a different treatment. In the first, rain is excluded from areas of land for two-week intervals with two-week breaks in between for a total of six weeks of rain exclusion. The second shelter received drought conditions for six continuous weeks, and a third shelter – the control – receives average rainfall every week. Photo by Kevin Kahmark.

As Haddad put it, the experiment provides “one of the best snapshots in the 33-year experiment.”

Constructing rain shelters, as it turns out, is super labor-intensive. Nameer Baker, science coordinator, shares what the experience was like in his Faculty voice: Keeping the rain out.