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Studying Plants to Predict Climate Change

Posted by: Judith Edwards
Feb. 21, 2017

Dr. Renee Marchin is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food (University of Sydney) in Camden, NSW, Australia. A user of our CI-202 Portable Laser Leaf Area Meter, Dr. Marchin’s publication, Transgenically altered lignin biosynthesis affects photosynthesis and water relations of field-grown Populus trichocarpa, will appear in this month’s issue of Biomass and Bioenergy. We caught up with her in February to learn more about her work with the CI-202, the focus of her research, and her long-term goals as a scientist.

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your background?

I first became interested in climate change when I was really young, when I learned that humans were the cause of global warming. I wanted to do something with my life that would, in some small way, perhaps counteract this great presumption—who are we to change the climate of the entire planet? I am happiest when I am outdoors, especially in wild places. It is summer in Australia now, so I like to go hiking or to the beach. I also love floating in local swimming holes.


What drew you to the study of plants?

I chose to study plants because of their vital role on our planet: humans couldn’t survive without plants releasing oxygen into Earth’s atmosphere. Plants are the base of food chains in terrestrial ecosystems. Forests around the world are important regulators of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.


What is the primary focus of your research?

I study how plants function under temperature and drought stress to improve predictions of the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems. One large source of uncertainty in climate change projections is if carbon uptake by terrestrial plant ecosystems will continue in the future. The biosphere is currently a carbon sink, but predicting whether terrestrial carbon uptake will continue in the future requires improvement of our mechanistic understanding of how climate affects various carbon and water cycle processes.


How has the CI-202 Portable Laser Leaf Area Meter played a role in your work?

I used the CI-202 to study how temperature and drought stress affected plant function for my Ph.D. research at North Carolina State University. Leaf area is an important measurement for a plant physiologist. I can measure rates of water loss or carbon uptake from single leaves, but to scale these measurements up to the level of whole plants, I need an estimate of the total leaf area of the plant. For small tree seedlings, this can easily be measured using the CI-202. Large trees are more complex and require the use of allometric equations that relate traits such as stem length and leaf number to total leaf area.


What are some of your long term goals as a scientist?

The goal of my research is to better inform environmental policies and conserve natural ecosystems. I am passionate about protecting natural ecosystems, from forests to subalpine grasslands to deserts. Long-term effects of rising temperature on these ecosystems is unclear, so I measure plant traits such as photosynthesis and transpiration to determine why certain genotypes, species, or plant functional types succeed in changing environments.


What’s your biggest challenge as a scientist?

The current biggest challenge for climate change scientists is political. In the USA, there are some powerful people who deny that climate change is happening. These people don’t listen to facts, because they are scared about what might happen to their lives and businesses if they acknowledge that climate change is real. That makes it very difficult for those of us who want to study how changing climate will affect the Earth. Scientists rely on government funding and support for research; my Ph.D. research was funded by a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Governments also dictate the policies that may protect (or harm) natural ecosystems in future decades.


To learn more about Dr. Marchin’s work, visit her website.


CID would like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Marchin on her recent marriage to Jesse Prokopavicius. They will be married in Wellington, New Zealand later this month!

Interested in learning how other researchers are using CID tools? Visit our Applications page.

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Judith Edwards

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