Climate change and its effects on ecosystems

Emerging findings on how ecosystems are responding to climate change were published this month in the journal Bioscience following the 40th anniversary of the US National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program.

Charles Driscoll

Charles Driscoll, a university professor of environmental systems and professor emeritus in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, is one of the main researchers behind this work.

The details of the research, highlighted in the abstract of the article, are pasted below:

Scientists have used long-term research to better understand the response of ecosystems to climate change. At 28 LTER sites, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, changes in air temperature and humidity variability and their effects on the frequency and severity of disturbances, new disturbances, modification of primary production, improved cycling of organic and inorganic matter, and changes in populations and communities are examined.

The results explore the impact of climate change in four main types of ecosystems:

  • In forests and freshwaters, climate change is affecting species composition and ecosystem function. This occurs through complex interactions, cascading effects and feedbacks to the climate system resulting from altered flow and changes in ecosystem processes such as primary production, carbon storage, cycling water and nutrients and community dynamics.
  • In drylands, warming combined with multi-decadal drought cycles have increased flooding and wildfires, altered resource availability, plant community structure and primary production, while severe regional droughts, wildfires forest and dust episodes have exacerbated air pollution.
  • In coastal regions, sea level rise and extreme heat and storm events are associated with trends and abrupt changes in primary production, organic matter cycling, and plant and animal communities. Coastal ecosystems exhibit dynamic adjustments and illustrate various forms of resilience to climate change.
  • At marine sites, climate patterns influence and interact with atmospheric and ocean currents and anthropogenic climate change to affect primary production, the cycling of organic and inorganic matter, and populations and community structure.

Although some responses to climate change are shared by diverse ecosystems, most are unique, involving region-specific drivers of change, interactions between multiple drivers of climate change, and interactions with other human activities.

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