As the planet sets one annual heat record after another, how will we know all the ways that a warmer climate will reshape our world? Part of that climate change answer will be found at Grass River Natural Area, where, this summer, biologists are taking inventory of all animals and plants. The study is called a “natural features inventory,” and scientists will compare the 2017 inventory to one done in 1983 to see which populations have changed or remained the same. The 1983 study found a remarkable 400 species of flora, alone. Fifteen species of plants and animals here are either threatened or of special concern in Michigan. While it’s difficult to say with certainty that climate change is responsible for any specific change in flora or fauna, the studies begin to build a baseline that becomes more valuable with each new set of data.

Collecting baseline data can seem very mundane, but without it, scientists have no way of knowing if change is occurring, or how dramatic that change might be. “One survey alone is not so useful,” says James Dake, education director at Grass River. “We need the baseline data to compare things over time.”

Grass River Natural Area was first preserved nearly 50 years ago and encompasses 1,500 acres of river shore, wetlands and upland forest. Its use as a laboratory for studying climate change will only increase over time.

Watch this video, by Nature Change’s Joe VanderMeulen, to learn more about the climate change work at Grass River Natural Area.

This video is part of an ongoing series produced by Nature Change, a Northern Michigan nonprofit dedicated to reporting on global warming, the North’s changing ecology and people who are passionate about protecting nature.

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Environmental Preservation in Northern Michigan:

Photo(s) by Joe VanderMeulen