Discovering ways to help vulnerable ecosystems adapt to impacts of climate change
Patrick Gonzalez, U.S. National Park Service
Emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, deforestation, and other human sources are changing global climate and damaging ecosystems and human well-being. Field observations from around the world have detected significant changes in ecosystems and attributed them to climate change rather than other factors. Climate change has shifted ranges of plants, animals, and biomes, altered the timing of life events such as plant flowering and animal migration, increased wildfires, and driven some amphibian species to extinction. Further warming may overwhelm the adaptive capacity of many species and ecosystems.
Climate change poses a fundamental problem for natural resource management: climate patterns are shifting in space and time, but national parks, national forests, and other natural areas remain at fixed locations. Three particular types of scientific research advance development of measures to help species and ecosystems adapt. First, quantification of emissions reductions from energy conservation and efficiency and reduced deforestation and degradation facilitates reduction of the cause of climate change and the need for adaptation. Second, detection of ecological changes and attribution of causes guides natural resource management responses toward the predominant factors causing change. Third, spatial analyses of the vulnerability of species and ecosystems to climate change identify the most vulnerable areas and potential refugia. Research is providing information for adaptation measures in development, including wildland fire and prescribed burning to avert catastrophic wildfires, coastal habitat restoration to improve resilience to sea level rise, and conservation of potential refugia for species vulnerable to vegetation shifts.
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