Arctic Climate Change’s Effect on Caribou Migration

by Kelsey D’Ewart

The freezing and thawing patterns in the Arctic have been increasingly affected as a result of global temperatures increasing, resulting in earlier later freezing and earlier thawing. This is forcing phenology changes in many Arctic species. Particularly, there has been a change in migration patterns in many species due to the lack of frozen bodies of water. This can lead to longer, more strenuous, and more dangerous migrations that can result in higher mortality rates. Leblond et al. (2016) tracked the ice thawing and freezing times for bodies of water in the migration path of caribou Rangifer tarandus Northern Quebec from 2007−2014, allowing them to determine if the change in ice melt was affecting the caribou’s phenology. Their hypothesis was that the caribou would travel extra distance in order to avoid swimming or water that was not completely frozen. They assessed four different parts of the migration: previous data for freezing trends, the caribou’s response to the change in freezing trends, fine-scale caribou behavior and phenology, and possible future movement using climate change projections. Continue reading

The Role of Multilevel Governance in Community-Based Environmental Management in Latin America

by Deedee Chao

Governance of resource allocation usually occurs through one of three approaches, or a combination thereof: hierarchical approaches that use existing power structures, market-based approaches based on voluntary exchange, and community-based approaches that involve the cooperation of all parties involved. Because of the collaboration required by the last approach, community-based environmental management (CBEM) often requires multi-level governance (MLG), in which different actors work across horizontal and vertical dimensions administratively and jurisdictionally. It also involves a degree of decentralization of power and responsibility among the various parties. MLG has been promoted as a method that decentralizes and reassigns power to different levels and sectors of power, allowing local groups and non-governmental agents to play a larger role than they would under other methods of governance.

Sattler et al. (2016) focused on filling a research gap in CBEM methodology by investigating the role of MLG in successful CBEM scenarios, using case studies of four different CBEM cases in Latin America. The paper’s goals are to first identify the individual actors and their societal spheres and governance levels, and then identify the roles that these actors play and how they interact with each other in promoting CBEM. The study collected primary data via personal interviews, observations of participants, and stakeholder discussions, as well as secondary data through reports, governmental documents, and websites.

In their analysis of individual actors, the researchers organized them by jurisdiction–international, national, regional, local–and sector–civil society, market, state, and cross-sectoral. In the cross-comparison of these actors’ roles, the study found that actors could be primarily active or passive in promoting CBEM. While state, market, and civil society actors were involved in both roles across the board, civil society actors tended to be extremely active while state actors were passive. In addition, actors involved at the local level were much more active than international actors, suggesting more proactivity the closer the actor was to the immediate community.

The interaction of actors across sectors was beneficial when each actor offered something essential that other actors could not; for example, civil society actors were best suited for initiating systemic change, while market actors were the best sources for professional services, and public actors were best for influencing legal changes. Across jurisdictions, MLG allowed for a better distribution of decision-making responsibilities, shifting power towards local groups who were most invested in successful CBEM. These interactions were also largely made possible by the proactivity of civil society actors, who took the lead in initiating CBEM. The non-profit, purpose-driven nature of civil society actors also allowed them to act as intermediaries to facilitate interaction between different parties. In these successful scenarios, it was also found that new actors, or institutions, were created to address a gap in community needs and further facilitate interaction between jurisdictions and sectors for better collaboration. Of course, in situations where various parties with different goals are working together, problems and conflicts arise, thus necessitating a forum for conflict resolution to be created in all cases as well.

In order to apply these findings to other communities, Sattler et al. (2016) determined that it would be necessary to focus on the context of each situation and identify the civil society actors who could take the lead on initiating CBEM strategies by empowering the community and creating communication channels between other actors. The researchers also recognize that long-term studies of successful CBEM in action would be beneficial to the field, as it would document the resilience and durability of CBEM.


Sattler, C., B. Schröter, A. Meyer, G. Giersch, C. Meyer, and B. Matzdorf. 2016. Multilevel governance in community-based environmental management: a case study comparison from Latin America. Ecology and Society vol. 21, art. 24. Web.

Overcoming The North-South Divide in Climate Change Research and Policy

by Claudia Chandra

Nature Climate Change published a research paper in January 2017 by Malgorzata Blicharska and her associates from countries including Brazil, Kenya, Sweden, South Africa and India. The paper discusses the global North-South divide in climate change research, policy and practice, which originates from the Southern countries’ smaller capacity to undertake research. Countries are categorized into either “Northern” (members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development such as Europe, North America, East Asia and Australasia) or “Southern” (lower income economies such as Asia, Latin America and Africa.) The report highlights how the disparities that exist between Northern and Southern countries, in terms of science and knowledge, will become a greater hindrance to the development and practice of effective climate change reduction actions and policies. The researchers explore the extent of this particular North-South divide, study the underlying issues associated with it, and examine the potential consequences for climate change policy development and implementation. Continue reading

Vegetation Disturbance Triggers Greenhouse-Gas Emitting Feedback Loop in Permafrost

by Lindsay McCord

Vegetation changes have the ability to rapidly destabilize permafrost soil, illustrating vulnerability of these ecosystems to disruptions. Study sites that removed shrub vegetation experienced both increased thaw depth of permafrost as well as soil subsidence, lowering the permafrost table by 31 cm in comparison to control sites. This created localized wetlands of water-saturated depressions, which become hotspots for additional thawing as well as increased methane emissions. Continue reading

Continuing Ocean Acidification Makes Finding Food Harder For Sharks

by Max Breitbarth

Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have already directly affected corals, algae and other low-trophic level organisms in our oceans through the process of ocean acidification—the absorption of around 25% of atmospheric CO2 by the ocean. The increasing acidity has made forming calcified exoskeletons more difficult for corals, destroying localized ecosystems. The effects of a declining coral population have climbed up the food chain to threaten even predators near the top of the list. But what about the primary predators of the oceans…the feared, fascinating and ferocious sharks that have provided insight on marine feeding patterns, inspired tales like the one shown through the film Jaws, and are recognized by most as the biggest, baddest fish in the sea? Dixson et al. (2016) were interested in observing whether higher levels of ocean acidification sharks and rays, specifically their enhanced olfactory organs. Continue reading

Absorptivity due to Climate Change Affects Wing Melanin in Butterflies

by Anna Alquitela

Climate change affects many organisms in varying ways. Organisms that are unlikely to migrate must adapt to climate change through evolutionary responses. Numerous studies have documented evolutionary responses to climate change over a period of one to three decades. However, the study by Kingsolver and Buckley (2015) provides evidence of a delayed evolutionary response to climate change for the subalpine and alpine butterfly, Colias meadii, in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Kingsolver and Buckley investigated the evolution of wing melanin of C. meadii and its effect on selection. They state that many species of the study area have adapted to their local climate conditions and “have limited potential for large-scale migration and gene flow.” Continue reading

The Value of Wetlands in Protecting Southeast Louisiana from Hurricane Storm Surges

by Andrew Walnum

Wetlands are recognized as important habitats not only for their benefits of maintaining biodiversity, water purification, erosion control, and carbon sequestration, but also their ability to reduce the impacts of storm surges. Hurricanes pose a particular threat coastal areas as can be seen during Katrina and other devastating hurricanes. Wetland restoration in areas along the Gulf Coast seems to be a logical way to help reduce the devastating impacts of surges and floods from ocean storms. However, there has never been a full analysis combining the hydrological and economic impacts of increasing wetland areas along the Gulf Coast. The authors of this study used models to look at the effects of increasing wetlands on property damage in Southeast Louisiana, near New Orleans. Their study finds that an increase in 10% vegetation cover per square meter saves $99-$133 in property damage per unit area and only a 1% increase saves $24-$43.

Barbier and colleagues used storm simulations across a transect along with estimates of analysis of the economic impact of a storm surge. The transect was chosen using numerical models and the (ADCIRC) unstructured grid hydrodynamic model to predict the direction, intensity, and duration of storm surges. Twelve locations along the transect were collected using ADCIRC and were sub-sampled to create 100 points from sea to land. Next, the wetland-water ratio and bottom roughness along the transect was collected. The wetland-water ratio (WL) was based on a scale of 0-1 with 0 being open water and 1 representing solid marsh. Bottom roughness (WR) is the value of friction caused by vegetation with 0.002 being no vegetation and 0.045 being dense vegetation. Reducing surge power was then measured as the maximum amount of attenuation over each of the 11 transects between the 12 locations. Each one of the 11 transects was 6,000 meters long and the WL and WR along each transect was averaged. The authors were next able to change the WL and WR values to observe changes in storm surge attenuation. Changes in storm surge frequency and duration can vary greatly but the authors used expected damage function approach to find the marginal values of WL and WR on damage to surrounding human-inhabited areas.

The authors found a direct correlation between both increasing wetland-water continuity and vegetative roughness on storm surge attenuation. More and wetlands and vegetation decrease the intensity of incoming waves from storms. Increasing the wetland-water ration by only 1% reduced storm surge intensity by 8.4% to 11.2% and 1% increase in wetland roughness decreased storm surge by 15.4% to 28.1%. This reduction in storm surge also has an effect on the amount of money saved from damage reduction. A 10% increase in wetland-water continuity saves $99-$133 dollars per unit area and a 1% increase saves $24-$43 per unit area. If an increase in wetland continuity is expanded along the transect, the results are even more positive. An increase in wetland-water along the full length of a 6,000 meter transect results in saving $592,000 to $792,100 for the average sub-planning units in local parishes surrounding the wetlands. An increase in bottom roughness from vegetation accounts for $141,000 to $258,000 saved for the average sub-planning unit.

Although used for only one transect, the study helps illustrate the need for wetland protection in the future. Wetlands provide a large array of environmental services but there most important benefit may be the protection of coastal property. However, restoration is expensive and even with a large scale project along the Gulf Coast, there would continue to be a decrease in the number of wetlands over time. As more information on the economic benefits of maintaining wetlands comes out, it may prove to be more beneficial in the long-run to spend money on restoration to protect damage by storm surges.

Barbier EB, Georgiou IY, Enchelmeyer B, Reed DJ (2013) The Value of Wetlands in Protecting Southeast Louisiana from Hurricane Storm Surges. PLoS ONE 8(3)

The Role of Scavengers in Ecosystems

by Alexander Birk

Vultures act as great scavengers for many different ecosystems. Scavengers are well known for preying on the dead carcasses in their habitat. Vultures, as described by Campbell, are the epitome of natural scavengers. Scavenging is a very difficult way of life and many animals cannot do it successfully. The vulture is the perfect fit for a very specific niche as a scavenger in their ecosystem. Even though the various vulture species are successful scavengers, the exposure to anthropogenic affects may prove to be detrimental to the species’ survival. Campbell (2014)

Vultures prove to be valuable assets to their ecosystems. Consuming dead carcasses is primarily helpful because it decreases the amount of disease. A vulture’s strong digestive system can handle rotting carcasses. If left alone, these carcasses may cause a widespread epidemic among a species. Vultures do not hunt, or eat live prey, therefor they dominate the scavenger niche in their ecosystem.

According to Campbell vulture populations have experienced significant anthropogenic affects. Prior to humans, many large herds of animals led to plentiful food supply for scavenging species. Today those plentiful herds have been replaced with things like road kill, medicated livestock, and overall less food for vultures. The common veterinary drug diclofenac, often used for keeping healthy livestock, has been found to be extremely deadly to vultures. In addition the chemical substances found on road kill have proven to be harmful to vultures as well.

Campbell refers to vultures as permanent scavengers and their presence in an ecosystem does not allow for other temporary scavenging species to thrive because the other scavenging species are not as fit for the niche as vultures. If vultures are not present, the ecosystem lacks the full benefits that the scavengers offer. With various species of vultures heading towards endangerment, the value of their presence is becoming more apparent. While humans may not see the species as valuable, they hold an irreplaceable role in their ecosystems.

Many vulture species around the world have become endangered. Mostly due to anthropogenic affects, either dying off from human-introduced chemicals or starving from humans removing their food source. Vultures are crucially important in many ecosystems, but most people think of them as dirty pests. Without vultures the biodiversity of many ecosystems may be in danger.

Michael O Campbell. 2014. A fascinating example of convergent evolution: endangered vultures. Biodiversity & Endangered Species. doi: 10.4172/2332-2543.1000132

Absorptivity due to Climate Change Affects Wing Melanin in Butterflies

by Anna Alquitela

Climate change affects many organisms in varying ways. Organisms that are unlikely to migrate must adapt to climate change through evolutionary responses. Numerous studies have documented evolutionary responses to climate change over a period of one to three decades. However, the study by Kingsolver and Buckley (2015) provides evidence of a delayed evolutionary response to climate change for the subalpine and alpine butterfly, Colias meadii, in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Kingsolver and Buckley investigated the evolution of wing melanin of C. meadii and its effect on selection. They state that many species of the study area have adapted to their local climate conditions and “have limited potential for large-scale migration and gene flow.” Comparing wing melanin to regional climate change, the authors relied on models to predict selection and evolutionary responses over the past 50—60 years. Continue reading

Anthropology in Climate Change

by Yijing Zhang

Barnes (2013) strongly suggests that natural scientists cannot solve the climate issue alone even if they have understood every scientific aspect of it. Therefore, anthropologists can further enrich the study of climate change in three ways, particularly when the climate debate involves social, cultural and political topics.

The first way to improve the climate study is to apply ethnographic insights. Instead of focusing on one specific community, Barnes argues that the climate change requires a broader perspective. Extending subjects from local places to international environments, and from science departments to companies and non-profit organizations, Barnes suggests that anthropology research is able to study how pure scientific knowledge could be incorporated into policies. By studying the language used in communication and debate, anthropologists can analyze how scientific knowledge is conveyed to the public.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a typical example of how scientific knowledge is interpreted. Research, which focused on how decisions were made and how presentation affects the debate in the panel, finds that anthropological elements help participants in the debate to think more broadly and help them to include cultural and social factors.

The second perspective that anthropology can offer is historical. As climate change is studied in a very long time scale, anthropologists suggest that the debate topics in environment and climate are not new. Since the time of Hippocrates, people have pondered whether humans can control environmental change. In addition, when scientists are talking about impacts of climate change on susceptible groups, they are, in fact, talking about uneven development processes in different countries, which has been a frequently discussed topic over the years. Hence, Barnes argues that discussions on past topics can effectively improve present mitigation or adaptation strategies.

The last way that anthropology can help is offering a holistic view. In contrast to solely emphasizing on the big picture, Barnes suggests that it is better to think about how new policies can influence people’s livelihood. Though people’s living quality, determined by politic environment and cultural influence is difficult to quantify, it is still important to address these issues, and anthropological approach helps to prevent an overemphasis on climate change data, bringing social responses into the picture.

Barnes, J., et al. (2013). “Contribution of anthropology to the study of climate change.” Nature Climate Change 3: 541-544.

TAGS: Yale school of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale Climate & Energy Institute, anthropology, fieldwork methodology, climate change.