A Framework for Determining the Affect of Global Climate Change and the Response of Species and Ecosystems

Species around the world will need to adapt, migrate, disperse, or evolve to deal with the current and future climate change. Otherwise, they will go extinct. It is thus important, in the effort to preserve biodiversity, to understand what species or habitat is at risk the most. While there are natural methods and responses in place for species, many are further hindered by the development of human populations. Dawson et al. (2011) developed a general framework to help aid in this task. Combining methods and models from around the scientific community, they hoped to create a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of the ability of species, habitats, and ecosystems to adapt to climate change. The authors believe this method will further aid conservation efforts globally, as the framework will allow conservationists to look at the affects of climate change from the individual species to its ecosystem to its biosphere. Dawson et al. understand the necessity for a complete and deeper understanding of species interactions with their environment, and just how this will affect future species shifts. The authors’ framework will aid in future conservation efforts of species and ecosystems. —Mathew Harreld
Dawson, T.P., Jackson, S.T., House, J.I., Prentice, I.C., Mace, G.M., 2011. Beyond predictions: biodiversity conservation in a changing climate. Science 332, 53–58.

          Current and future climate change is predicted to heavily impact biodiversity globally. Many studies have now been done on the effects of climate change on local species niches, resulting in alarming rates of displacement and extinctions. However, Dawson et al. believe that the data being collected in these studies do not tell the full story. The niche-based model, according to the authors, only highlights the species’ exposure to global warming. Changes in biodiversity locally and globally are much more complicated than these models can illustrate. The alarming nature of some niche-based models has caused a knee jerk reaction by policy makers, but the authors warn that designing conservation and restoration policies based on one scientific approach is highly risky. Therefore Dawson et al. propose integrating known methods and models, and refocusing on the overall vulnerability to global warming on species, ecosystems, habitats, and communities.
          The authors state that in addition to temperature, vulnerability is linked directly to exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Using multiple sources of evidence from the scientific community, Dawson et al. established a general framework for observing the affects of global warming through these three aspects to create a more complete picture of the effects of global warming. By using current niche-based models, direct observation, paleocological records, ecophysiological models, experimental manipulations, and population models, a more complete picture can be revealed. The initial findings show that biodiversity loss will not be as great as predicted solely by the niche models.
          Direct observations create a basic picture of how species are adapting currently to climate change; it appears that species are increasing their ranges and migrations. This isn’t the full story however, as currently we do not have a full understanding of range shifts, and species’ response to climate change. It is thus necessary to use other methods in conjunction with observational studies. However, the observation data do give us insight into the sensitivity of species to climate change.
          Another important method of determining the effect of global warming on our planet is determining how and if species can adapt (i.e. adaptive capability). The authors suggest that species populations have a high ability to adapt through microevolution and migration, however these are difficult data to record. Therefore the authors use past data from the previous glacial transition 20,000 to 12,000 years ago. The evidence suggests a great capacity of species to adapt. As the authors point out, during the last glacial transition period there is only one species extinction that is attributed solely to climate change.
          Dawson et al. believe that by using the data above, as well as many other sources, they have developed a vulnerability framework. Using this framework, a more complete picture of how global climate change is affecting, and will affect species in the future, can be developed. Dawson et al. found, using their framework, that many plant species will need to disperse rapidly, but will likely be hindered by human development. They then determined that using the long-distance dispersal conservation method to help plants migrate would be appropriate.  This is simply one example of a way to use their model. Dawson et al. suggest that there are many uses for their framework, as it can be applied at every level, from an individual species to a whole ecosystem. More importantly, the authors stress that it is important to use the framework at every level, as simply looking at the environment in one way will not be enough to understand the actions we must take to help it. The framework developed by Dawson et al. will aid the on going conservation efforts, but most importantly will aid the scientific community in gaining a understanding of the larger climate change picture.

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