About BioCON

photos of flowers

BioCON (Biodiversity, CO2, and Nitrogen) is an ecological experiment started in 1997 at the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. The goal of this experiment is to explore the ways in which plant communities will respond to three environmental changes that are known to be occurring on a global scale: increasing nitrogen deposition, increasing atmospheric CO2, and decreasing biodiversity.

Why Biodiversity, CO2, and Nitrogen?

While there are many uncertainties in global change biology, there are also some well documented facts. Some of these are:

  1. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is rising. Since the industrial revolution, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased from approximately 275 parts per million (ppm) to about 378 ppm today. This has been largely the result of fossil fuel burning. It is expected that CO2 levels will continue to rise, and that by the year 2050 these levels will be approximately 550 ppm. CO2 is the raw material for photosynthesis and is known to affect plant growth and development.
  2. The amount of nitrogen moving through terrestrial ecosystems has increased in the recent past. While natural “background” levels of nitrogen fixation have remained constant, human additions to the system through fertilizer production and fossil fuel use have increased dramatically. Nitrogen is a key nutrient for plant growth and plays a critical role in plant community structure and composition in many environments.
  3. Biodiversity levels are falling. While the research and data are not as complete as they are for CO2 and nitrogen, data indicate that the number of species globally, is being reduced. Perhaps more important for ecosystem function, diversity levels on local to regional scales have fallen due to land use change, biotic invasion and many other drivers.

While much is known about how each of these factors affects ecosystem functioning, many questions remain. There is also little data on how these issues affect each other, and what emergent qualities may arise when systems are exposed to these changes simultaneously. BioCON seeks to address these issues with this multi-year study at Cedar Creek Ecosytem Science Preserve.

FACE Technology

BioCON uses a unique Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) technology to elevate the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in the experimental plots. The FACE system used in the BioCON experiment was developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  It uses natural wind conditions to carry CO2 enriched air across the vegetation. Because the plants are outside in a more natural environment, the chamber effects normally created by enclosures such as greenhouses are reduced or eliminated.

This research has been/is supported by the Department of Energy (DOE/DE-FG02-96ER62291) and the National Science Foundation (NSF Biocomplexity 0322057, NSF LTER DEB 9411972 (1994–2000), DEB 0080382 (2000–2006), and DEB 0620652 (2006–2012), and NSF LTREB 0716587).