Dr Anna Harper
Associate Research Fellow
Stephen Sitch and I are currently seeking a PhD candidate to work on paleoclimate vegetation distribution and the role of flexible plant triats - see below for more details!
My interests include reducing climate change uncertainty through a better understanding of the terrestrial sources and sinks of CO2. I use the earth system model, JULES, to better constrain environmental and physiological controls on photosynthesis, respiration, and transpiration. Each of these processes also have important implications and feedbacks to the climate system. I am particularly interested in the Amazon rainforest, an amazing ecosystem which provides invaluable services to humanity - not least of which is the capture and storage of CO2. Drought threatens this ecosystem. How the forest responds to droughts and the likelihood of future droughts will both play large roles in the future of the global carbon cycle and climate. Below is further description of some projects I am working on.
Plant trait-climate interactions (opening for NERC Doctoral Training Program GW4+)
An important question with climate change is how will terrestrial storage of CO2 be affected? If climate change reduces the CO2 stored on land, there will be a positive feedback as more CO2 will go into the air and cause further climate change. Therefore it's essential to get a better grasp on what will happen to vegetation with climate change.
Trees invest in leaf nutrients and structure, and this can determine their long-term viability in a climate regime. For example, deciduous trees tend to have thin leaves with high nutrient concentrations - the leaves aren't on the tree for long so they need to assimilate as much carbon dioxide as possible in their short lifespan. On the other hand, evergreen trees have thick leaves that are in it "for the long haul" - they have low CO2 assimilation rates but over their long lifespans they can bring in loads of CO2. These investment strategies can vary with climate and that is the motivation for current research I am involved in with Professor Stephen Sitch (in Geography), and Dr. Peter van Bodegom and Lieneke Verheijen at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
Early work suggests that these traits will improve the simulated response of vegetation to climate change. We want to test that hypothesis using the trait-climate variations in present day and paleoclimate reconstructions. The full description of the project is here: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/studying/funding/award/?id=1572.
Plants "eat" CO2 to live, so to first order vegetation will benefit from growing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. BUT there are several complicating factors which in reality will control how much extra CO2 plants can assimilate: changes in weather and climate patterns, changes in nutrient availability, and human land use change and degradation. I'm involved in a project to better understand how plants will respond to rising CO2 using "FACE" (free-air enrichment of CO2) experiments. During these experiments, extra CO2 is pumped into a study area and the responses of the plants and soils are measured. My role is to use JULES to see which processes might be most important in the real world that are missing in earth system models.
Recent Publications (please e-mail me if you would like a copy but do not have access to a journal)
AB Harper, IT Baker, AS Denning, DA Randall, D Dazlich, M Branson, Impact of evapotranspiration on dry season climate in the Amazon forest. Journal of Climate. http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00074.1 Press release: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_334187_en.html
IT Baker, AB Harper, HR Rocha, AS Denning, AC Araujo, LS Borma, HC Freitas, ML Goulden, AO Manzi, SD Miller, AD Nobre, N Restrepo-Coupe, SR Saleska, R Stockli, C Randow, SC Wofsy (2013), Surface ecophysiological behavior across vegetation and moisture gradients in tropical South America. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. DOI: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2012.11.015
TL Powell, DR Galbraith, BO Christoffersen, AB Harper, HMA Imbuzeiro, L Rowland, S Almeida, PM Brando, ACL da Costa, MH Costa, NM Levine, Y Malhi, SR Saleska, E Sotta, M Williams, P Meir, PR Moorcroft (2013), Confronting model predictions of carbon fluxes with measurements of Amazon forests subjected to experimental drought. New Phytologist. DOI:10.1111/nph.12390
AB Harper, AS Denning, IT Baker, MD Branson, L Prihodko, DA Randall (2010), Role of deep soil moisture in modulating climate in the Amazon forest. Geophysical Research Letters. DOI:10.1029/2009gl042302