The Southwest Experimental Garden Array or SEGA is a genetics-based multi-site research platform to explore and quantify ecological and evolutionary responses to changing climatic conditions at scales from genes to ecosystems. Consisting of ten gardens along a 1615 meter (5,300 feet) elevation gradient, SEGA sites span habitats from desert and semi-arid grassland to alpine forest within a single ecoregion. As climate change impacts our communities, economies, and natural systems, the need to develop new solutions to manage and mitigate those impacts is urgent. With mean annual temperatures ranging from 2.4 to 14.5°C and annual precipitation from 153 to 1292 mm – the SEGA site array captures significant climatic and biological variation within which this vital research is being conducted.
The gardens are designed to examine how climate change affects individual plant species, plant communities, and ecosystems. By growing the same plant species and genotypes (plants with the same genetic makeup) at sites across this elevational gradient – the systematic variation in temperature and moisture regimes provide an effective proxy for climate change. This allows scientists to discover which species and genes are most likely to survive and reproduce during drought and predicted climate warming. Reciprocal transplant experiments between sites are an additional testing ground for the potential of plant species to adapt to changing climatic conditions.
SEGA provides scientists with near real-time environmental data via a sophisticated engineering infrastructure developed at NAU that includes an array of environmental sensors and the facility to carry out multi-factor climate change manipulations – controlled and accessible remotely via wireless links. The data is being used to analyze plant performance, soil microbial communities, canopy arthropod communities, and individual tree genomics data to identify and understand how genes respond to environmental stress.
Combining diverse disciplines including climate science, ecology, genetics, engineering, computing and informatics, SEGA also offers an exceptional training opportunities 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.