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September 24, 2018   
150 Years of Grass Research  May 29, 2006

In a field in Rothamsted , Hertfordshire, lies a grid of grassy plots which has a remarkable history. for It is the site of the world’s oldest ongoing ecological experiment. The experiment was set up in 1856 by John Lawes – founder of the research institution now known as Rothamsted Research – and his scientific collaborator, Joseph Gilbert.

It was originally established to answer a crucial agricultural question of the day: how do different fertilisers affect hay yield. Something they hadn’t expected was that there were changes of species composition on different plots. At that point, they noted that the experiment was now of more interest to botanists than it was to agriculturists.”

Over the years, the plots began to look dramatically different – and scientists were able to make some astonishing discoveries from studying these numerous combinations of nutrients, acidity, grasses and plants. The experiment had shown an interesting relationship between nutrients and species’ populations. You might think the more nutrients you add, the more species you get – when in fact completely the opposite happens. The more nutrients you add, the fewer species you get. And although perhaps quite a lot of people know that these days, it was discovered at Park Grass. This is because the plants that can use the nutrients best push out the competition.

More recent research has included looking into the impact of climate change on ecology, by investigating the impact of increasing CO2 levels on the grasses. The 6.9 acres site is still answering the questions that arise from our ever-changing environment.


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