Ecological Effects of Climate Change

Scientists at NCEAS have been studying the ecological effects of climate change in depth since the Center’s establishment in 1995. Projects have examined a broad range of impacts that result from modern changes in temperature (global warming), atmospheric gases, precipitation, wind patterns, and the severity of storms. Consequently, two of the top three most influential publications on ecological response to climate change identified by ISI in 2010 were NCEAS Working Group products.

The NCEAS approach is particularly useful in climate change research, because:

  • analysis and synthesis of existing data allows researchers to understand the large-scale ecological responses to climate change that have already occurred, and to improve predictions of future change
  • climate change topics are necessarily interdisciplinary, and benefit from the highly collaborative discourse among physical, biological and social scientists that can be facilitated by NCEAS
  • Ecoinformatics principles and tools are especially useful for organizing and analyzing the large-scale, heterogeneous data used in climate change research

Understanding carbon dynamics is critical to interpreting and predicting ecological responses to climate change at the global scale. Consequently, NCEAS researchers have investigated concerns such as the broad implications of release of carbon storage from permafrost(1), and the role of forests(2) and aquatic systems(3-5) in the global carbon cycle. Other studies have investigated climate change effects on net primary production(6), as well as energy exchange and climate feedbacks from ecosystems within the global climate system(7,8).

The broad and often uncertain effects of climate change add complexity to conservation and resource management, as well as policy making. To inform such programs, NCEAS scientists have provided insights for reserve design(9-11) and natural resource management(12-14) in the face of climate-driven changes. From a policy perspective, NCEAS researchers have also undertaken studies to influence climate mitigation or adaptation policies--for example, assessment and monitoring of carbon storage in forests(15,16) and implementing local solutions to mitigate ocean acidification(17).

Many other NCEAS projects have focused on the science of climate change effects. For example, NCEAS scientists have examined effects of climate change on plant and animal assemblages, and on important ecological processes like the flow of nutrients and gases through ecosystems, across a range of time scales: from experimental data to long-term survey records and paleoecological data. The perspective of “deep time” represented by the fossil record provides insights on implications of current climate change for biological dynamics(18-20).

The scope of NCEAS climate change science research range from population-level impacts of climatic changes(21), to effects on communities(22) and biodiversity(23,24), to a variety of broader ecosystem impacts. For example, NCEAS scientists have examined such diverse topics as:

  • changes in phenology and the resulting effects on species interactions(25)
  • the expansion or shift of plant and animal ranges in response to climatic changes(26-29)
  • effects of climate variability(30) and climate change effects on freshwater lakes(31-33)
  • species’ resilience to climate change(34)
  • plant and soil responses to interactions of changing temperature, precipitation and CO2(35,36)
  • nutrients’ role and influence over ecosystem responses to climate change(37,38)
  • temperature and wind effects on ocean currents and marine life(39,40)
  • coral reef vulnerability to the severity of storms and direct effects of warming (e.g. bleaching)(41), and
  • terrestrial and marine pathogen responses to climate change(42,43)

The study of disease ecology has been a special area of research at NCEAS, particularly with respect to predicting disease dynamics under climate change scenarios. Similarly, NCEAS research has included a significant evaluation of marine concerns related to climate change.

Databases pertinent to climate change research that has been done at NCEAS are freely available through the NCEAS Data Registry and Repository. Below are a few examples:

  1. E.A.G. Schuur et al., BioScience 58(8), 701 (2008).
  2. A.R. Keyser et al., Global Change Biology 6, 185 (2000).
  3. D. Bastviken et al., Science 331(6013), 50 (2011).
  4. C.M. Duarte et al., Biogeosciences Discussions 1, 659 (2004).
  5. J.J. Cole et al,. Ecosystems 10, 171 (2007).
  6. S. Del Grosso et al., Ecology 89 (8), 2117 (2008).
  7. R.G. Anderson et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9(3), 174 (2011).
  8. S. Chapin et al., Global Change Biology 6, 211 (2000).
  9. B.S. Halpern et al. Conservation Letters 2, 138 (2009).
  10. L. Hannah et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5(3), 13 (2007).
  11. C.R. Pyke et al., Biological Conservation 125, 1 (2005).
  12. M. Basket et al., Global Change Biology 16(4), 1229 (2010).
  13. N. Owen-Smith et al., in National Symposium on Global Change and Regional Sustainability in South Africa (Cape Town, South Africa, 2003).
  14. D.E. Schindler et al., Fisheries 33 (10), 502 (2008).
  15. R.B. Jackson et al., Environmental Research Letters 3 (2008).
  16. G.A. Sanchez-Azofeifa et al., Ecological Applications 19 (2), 480 (2009).
  17. R.P. Kelly et al., Science 332(6033), 1036 (2011).
  18. V. Millien et al., Ecology Letters 9, 853 (2006).
  19. J.W. Williams et al., Geology 30(11), 971 (2002).
  20. J. Alroy et al., Paleontological Society (2000).
  21. J.M. Drake, Proceedings of the British Royal Society 272, 1823 (2005).
  22. S.E. Gilman et al., Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25(6), (2010).
  23. D.J. Currie, Ecology Letters 7, 1121 (2004).
  24. R. Jansson & T.J. Davies, Ecology Letters 11, 173 (2008).
  25. E.E. Cleland et al., Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22 (7), 357 (2007).
  26. C. Parmesan et al., Nature 399, 579 (Jun 10, 1999).
  27. J. Lenoir et al., Science 320, 1768 (2008).
  28. P. Williams et al., Conservation Biology 19(4), 1063 (2005).
  29. A.T. Peterson, Global Change Biology 9, 647 (2003).
  30. S. Katz et al., PLoS ONE (2011).
  31. P. Verburg & R.E. Hecky , Limnology & Oceanography 54(6) (2009).
  32. S.E. Hampton et al., Global Change Biology 14, 1 (2008).
  33. S.V. Pham et al., Limnology & Oceanography 53 (2), 728 (2008).
  34. M. Kearney et al., Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (strong>106(10), 3835 (2009).
  35. L.E. Rustad et al., Oecologia 126(4), 543 (2001).
  36. J.F. Weltzin et al., BioScience 53 (10), 941 (2003).
  37. M.C. Mack et al., Nature 431, 440 (2004).
  38. B.A. Hungate et al., Science 302, 1512 (2003).
  39. M.I. O'Connor et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (4), 1266 (2007).
  40. MERCINA Working Group, Oceanography 17 (3), 60 (2004).
  41. J. S. Madin et al., Nature 444, 477 (2006).
  42. C.D. Harvell et al., Science 296, 2158 (2002).
  43. K. Koelle et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society of Britain 272, 971 (2005).