The Southwest Experimental Garden Array, or SEGA, is a new genetics-based climate change research platform that allows scientists to quantify the ecological and evolutionary responses of species exposed to changing climate conditions. SEGA has begun to create a system of 10 gardens along a steep elevation gradient in northern Arizona that includes conditions ranging from desert to alpine forest. By planting the same plant species and genotypes in different environments, scientists can identify which ones perform best and are most likely to survive changing conditions.
New engineering and technological solutions for gathering, managing, and analyzing environmental data are being developed to support SEGA research. Scientists have the ability to gather near real-time data on soil moisture and weather conditions that can then be related to plant performance, soil microbial communities, canopy arthropod communities, and individual tree genomics data to help identify which genes are associated with environmental stress.
This approach requires the education of a new generation of scientists trained in diverse disciplines — climate science, ecology, genetics, engineering, and informatics. As a result, SEGA research offers an exceptional training ground for both graduate and undergraduate students.
The science at the heart of A Thousand Invisible Cords: Connecting Genes to Ecosystems, an eco-documentary that explores the 30-year scientific journey that confirmed the genetic connectivity of members of an ecosystem, has been used to develop SEGA.