Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: ecosystems

  1. Changing weather patterns throwing ecosystems out of whack

    Leave a Comment
    • Species’ lifecycles are slowly growing out of alignment, which can affect the functioning of ecosystems, ultimately impacting human food supply and disease.
    • Researchers found that cold-blooded species and those with small body sizes are breeding or aggregating earlier than warm-blooded or large-bodied species in spring– after reviewing thousands of records of phenological shifts dating back to the 1950s.

    February 5, 2018 University of South Florida (USF Health) read full ScienceDaily article here

    Day and night will soon align, marking the start of spring. But the timing of nature’s calendar is starting to fall out of sync. …a team of researchers …found that animal species are shifting the timing of their seasonal activities, also known as phenology, at different rates in response to changing seasonal temperatures and precipitation patterns.

    As species’ lifecycles grow out of alignment, it can affect the functioning of ecosystems with potential impacts on human food supplies and diseases,” said lead author Jeremy Cohen, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida Department of Integrative Biology. “We rely on honeybees to pollinate seasonal crops and migratory birds to return in the spring to eat insects that are crop pests and vectors of human diseases. If the timing of these and other seasonal events are off, ecosystems can malfunction with potentially adverse effects on humans.”

    Dr. Cohen and his team found that cold-blooded species and those with small body sizes are breeding or aggregating earlier than warm-blooded or large-bodied species in spring. They come to this conclusion after reviewing thousands of records of phenological shifts dating back to the 1950s….

    Jeremy M. Cohen, Marc J. Lajeunesse, Jason R. Rohr. A global synthesis of animal phenological responses to climate change. Nature Climate Change, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0067-3

  2. New estimate of how much humans have transformed the planet; habitat restoration of degraded lands is key to sequestering carbon and reversing climate change

    Leave a Comment
    • Current human use of land is responsible for ~halving the potential storage of carbon by that land. 
    • Through large-scale grazing and other uses of grasslands, as well as forest “management,” humans have subtracted from Earth’s potential carbon sequestration in vegetation an amount equal to deforestation.
    • Earth’s vegetation currently stores around 450 petagrams of carbon [450 billion tons (or gigatons Gt) of carbon or 1665 Gt of CO2e] and in a hypothetical without land use changes, potential vegetation would store around 916 petagrams of carbon, under current climate conditions.
    • Avoiding deforestation is necessary but not enough to reverse climate change.
    • Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees [Celsius] require not only rapid cessation of greenhouse gas emissions but also removal of somewhere between about 100 and 300 billion tons of carbon [or 370 to 1110 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e] from the atmosphere; restoring vegetation is key contribution to controlling climate change
    by Chris Moony Dec 20 2017  see full Washington Post article

    In this age of climate change, we naturally train our attention on all the fossil fuels being combusted for human use — but scientists have long known that what’s happening is also all about the land.

    Just as buried fossil fuels are filled with carbon from ancient plant and animal life, so too are living trees and vegetation on Earth’s surface today. Razing forests or plowing grasslands puts carbon in the atmosphere just like burning fossil fuels does.

    Now, new research provides a surprisingly large estimate of just how consequential our treatment of land surfaces and vegetation has been for the planet and its atmosphere. If true, it’s a finding that could shape not only our response to climate change, but our understanding of ourselves as agents of planetary transformation….

    ….Using a series of detailed maps derived from satellite information and other types of ecological measurements, Erb and his colleagues estimated how much carbon is contained in Earth’s current vegetation. The number is massive: 450 billion tons of carbon, which, if it were to somehow arrive in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, would amount to over a trillion tons of the gas. (The mass is greater due to the addition of oxygen molecules.)

    But the study also presented an even larger and perhaps more consequential number: 916 billion tons. That’s the amount of carbon, the research calculated, that could reside in the world’s vegetation — so not in the atmosphere — if humans somehow entirely ceased all uses of land and allowed it to return to its natural state. The inference is that current human use of land is responsible for roughly halving the potential storage of carbon by that land….

    …the impact calculation is so large because humans have done far more than just bring about deforestation, which Erb said accounts for about half of the loss of potential vegetation. … “But the other half, in most studies, is completely missing.”…

    …The study found that there are two far-less-recognized components of how humans have subtracted from Earth’s potential vegetation — and that in combination they are just as substantial as deforestation. Those are large-scale grazing and other uses of grasslands, as well as forest “management.” With the latter, many trees and other types of vegetation are subtracted from forests — often the larger and older trees due to logging — but the forests as a whole don’t disappear. They’re just highly thinned out.

    “This effect is quite massive, more massive than we expected actually,” Erb said….

    ….The research means that so-called degraded land — not fully deforested but not “natural” or whole, either — is a phenomenon to be reckoned with.

    “It suggests that the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere from land use is approximately equal to the amount still retained,” said Tom Lovejoy, an ecologist at George Mason University who was not involved in the work. “That means the restoration agenda is even more important than previously thought and highlights the enormous amount of degraded land in the world.”…

    ….“Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees [Celsius] require not only rapid cessation of greenhouse gas emissions but also removal of somewhere between about 100 and 300 billion tons of carbon [or 370 to 1110 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e] from the atmosphere,” Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, said in an email.

    This paper suggests that restoring vegetation around the world could in principle achieve that,” Duffy continued, noting that if all the potential vegetation were restored it would offset some 50 years of global carbon emissions. While “the full theoretical potential will never be realized in practice … this paper indicates that restoring vegetation could make an extremely important contribution to controlling global climate change.”

    Karl-Heinz Erb et al. Unexpectedly large impact of forest management and grazing on global vegetation biomass. Nature  Dec 2017 doi:10.1038/nature25138
     Abstract: Carbon stocks in vegetation have a key role in the climate system. However, the magnitude, patterns and uncertainties of carbon stocks and the effect of land use on the stocks remain poorly quantified. Here we show, using state-of-the-art datasets, that vegetation currently stores around 450 petagrams of carbon. In the hypothetical absence of land use, potential vegetation would store around 916 petagrams of
    carbon, under current climate conditions. This difference highlights the massive effect of land use on biomass stocks. Deforestation and other land-cover changes are responsible for 53–58% of the difference between current and potential biomass stocks. Land management effects (the biomass stock changes induced by land use within the same land cover) contribute 42–47%, but have been underestimated in the literature. Therefore, avoiding deforestation is necessary but not sufficient for mitigation of climate change. Our results imply that trade-offs exist between conserving carbon stocks on managed land and raising the contribution of biomass to raw material and energy supply for the mitigation of climate change. Efforts to raise biomass stocks are currently verifiable only in temperate forests, where their potential is limited. By contrast, large uncertainties hinder verification in the tropical forest, where the largest potential is located, pointing to challenges for the upcoming stocktaking exercises under the Paris agreement.
  3. Biodiversity effects– one of humanity’s best defenses against extreme weather and rising temperatures

    Leave a Comment
    • In nature, biodiversity topped climate as the most powerful predictor of biomass production in roughly half the studies, and it topped nutrients in two-thirds of them

    September 11, 2017 Smithsonian read full ScienceDaily article here

    Biodiversity is proving to be one of humanity’s best defenses against extreme weather. In past experiments, diversity has fostered healthier, more productive ecosystems, like shoreline vegetation that guards against hurricanes. However, many experts doubted whether these experiments would hold up in the real world. A study offers a decisive answer: biodiversity’s power in the wild surpasses experimental predictions, in some cases topping even effects of climate

    ….In every type of ecosystem the team analyzed, biodiversity went hand-in-hand with more flourishing ecosystems. More diverse systems had higher biomass, and the effect was stronger in natural studies than has been predicted from controlled experiments. This connection held true even after the team controlled for other environmental factors, like temperature and nutrients.

    More strikingly, in nature biodiversity topped climate as the most powerful predictor of biomass production in roughly half the studies, and it topped nutrients in two-thirds of them….

    [Why?] ….Natural ecosystems already tend to have vastly more species than most experiments. ….But even when the scientists ran the analysis under a hypothetical scenario — imagining what would happen if natural systems had fewer species, like the experiments did — natural systems still had an edge. This second advantage may come from other types of diversity in nature beyond species. Differences in light, moisture or other variablescould have given diverse communities more opportunities to thrive in the natural world, empowering the entire ecosystem to thrive more as well….

    Preserving life in all its diversity is vital not only for conservationists, but also for the health of businesses and communities. “The variety of life on Earth is critically important to our future,” Duffy said….

    J. Emmett Duffy, Casey M. Godwin, Bradley J. Cardinale. Biodiversity effects in the wild are common and as strong as key drivers of productivity. Nature, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature23886

  4. Diverse landscapes are more productive and adapt better to climate change

    Leave a Comment
    • The analyses showed that landscapes with a greater biodiversity were more productive and that their productivity showed a lower year-to-year variation.
    • Landscapes with high biodiversity can adapt better and faster to changing environmental conditions

    Posted: 04 Sep 2017 01:56 PM PDT read full ScienceDaily article here

    Ecosystems with high biodiversity are more productive and stable towards annual fluctuations in environmental conditions than those with a low diversity of species. They also adapt better to climate-driven environmental changes. These are the key findings environmental scientists made in a study of about 450 landscapes harboring 2,200 plants and animal species….

    Jacqueline Oehri, Bernhard Schmid, Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, and Pascal A. Niklaus. Biodiversity promotes primary productivity and growing season lengthening at the landscape scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 4, 2017 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1703928114

  5. Earth Optimism Summit 2017- videos available

    Leave a Comment

    Smithsonian Conservation Commons
    April 21-23, 2017

    see full listing of videos and speakers here

    What’s Working in Conservation

    Earth Optimism celebrates a change in focus from problem to solution in the area of global conservation with an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, scientists, environmentalists, artists, civic leaders and international media.

    The global conservation movement has reached a turning point. We have documented the fast pace of habitat loss, the growing number of endangered and extinct species, and the increasing speed of global climate change. Yet while the seriousness of these threats cannot be denied, there are a growing number of examples of improvements in the health of species and ecosystems, along with benefits to human well-being, thanks to our conservation actions. Earth Optimism is a global initiative that celebrates a change in focus from problem to solution, from a sense of loss to one of hope, in the dialogue about conservation and sustainability.

  6. Incomplete ecological drought recovery new norm?

    Leave a Comment
    • If another drought arrives before trees and other plants have recovered from the last one, the ecosystem can reach a ‘tipping point’ where the plants’ ability to function normally is permanently affected.
    • A chronic state of incomplete drought recovery may be the new normal for the remainder of the 21st century and the risk of reaching “tipping points” that result in widespread tree deaths may be greater going forward,

    Aug 9 2017 see full ScienceDaily article here

    The amount of time it takes for an ecosystem to recover from a drought is an important measure of a drought’s severity. During the 20th century, the total area of land affected by drought increased, and longer recovery times became more common, according to new research published by Nature…

    …”If another drought arrives before trees and other plants have recovered from the last one, the ecosystem can reach a ‘tipping point’ where the plants’ ability to function normally is permanently affected,” Fang said.

    The team found that drought impacts increased over the 20th century. Given anticipated 21st century changes in temperature and projected increases in drought frequency and severity due to climate change, their findings suggest that recovery times will be slower in the future…

    Christopher R. Schwalm et al. Global patterns of drought recovery. Nature, 2017; 548 (7666): 202 DOI: 10.1038/nature23021

  7. BAECCC (Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consoritum) Monthly News Update April 24 2017

    Leave a Comment

    BAECCC (Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consoritum) Monthly News Update  April 24 2017

    The New York Times reviews a recent study about the impact of a 2°C rise in earth’s average temperature on the extent of permafrost. Using empirical methods, this study concludes that about 20% more permafrost than previously thought will melt in response to this temperature rise (keeping the rise to 1.5°C reduces melting by 30%).  [The study suggests that permafrost is more susceptible to global warming that previously thought, as stabilising the climate at 2ºC above pre-industrial levels would lead to thawing of more than 40% of today’s permafrost areas. S. E. Chadburn, E. J. Burke, P. M. Cox, P. Friedlingstein, G. Hugelius, S. Westermann. An observation-based constraint on permafrost loss as a function of global warming. Nature Climate Change, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3262]

    The New York Times Magazine Climate Issue (April 23), which is worth reviewing in its entirety, has article that describes the impacts of climate change that are forcing human migration and engendering social unrest and conflict. Another article describes SCOPEX (Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment), an investigation underway at Harvard regarding the feasibility (including the ethical challenges) of geoengineering by release of particles to the atmosphere. And another reviews the history of mosquito borne illness in the US and the recent evidence that climate change will be exacerbating this phenomenon.  [and another one I liked: Climate future is actually our climate present.]

    An article in Yale Environment 360 examines the growing conservative movement for climate action (the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus is expanding). Axios reviews corporate positions on climate change, noting that the corporate sector is supporting the Paris agreement and distancing itself from the stance of the Trump administration. The Christian Science Monitor reports on the how conservative California farmers are thinking about water conservation and efficiency of use (just don’t talk about climate change).

    Brad Plumer at VOX has an excellent discussion of why we need to be concerned about the Trump administration’s lack of action on climate change. While it’s true renewables are growing and states and local governments are taking action, we need the federal government to be planning for the deep decarbonization that is required to meet the 2°C goal. Should we seek decarbonization using 100% renewables (as suggested by Professor Mark Jacobson with The Solutions Project at Stanford), or also plan for using nuclear and fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage? Dave Roberts at VOX has an overview of this debate. [Here is an article on Bloomberg’s take on this.]

    The budget proposed by President Trump would eliminate the National Estuary Program at US EPA, and almost completely eliminate the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Program (I expect we can count on drastic proposed reductions in federal funding directed toward San Francisco Bay). The New York Times has a short video describing the kinds of work in the Chesapeake that will be eliminated if this budget is adopted.

    The talented communicators at the Years of Living Dangerously have produced a video to encourage you and your friends to participate in the People’s Climate March. Please take a look and distribute the link far and wide. Realclimate now has a page devoted to comparisons of model prediction with predicted temperature measurements.

    The Ocean Protection Council and Ocean Science Trust released of a new report entitled Rising Seas in California: An Update on Sea-Level Rise Science. This report summarizes recent sea-level rise science, including recent scientific advances on the role of polar ice loss, and presents probabilistic projections for sea level rise in California. The Atlantic has an interesting article about the presence of surface water in Antarctica, and the growing understanding that there are active hydrologic networks that play a role in the resiliency of the ice sheets to warming temperatures.

    The Mid-Peninsula Open Space District has an opening for a Climate Resiliency Fellow. Bay Nature is seeking an Executive Director.

    If you count on the information contained in the BAECCC Brief, remember that I am just compiling the work of some of our country’s leading news publications. Please consider becoming a subscriber to the publications you find most valuable, as this will make sure they can continue to do their important work.


    Andrew Gunther, Ph.D., Executive Coordinator

    Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium

    voice: (510) 420-1570

  8. Climate change: global reshuffle of wildlife will have huge impacts on humanity

    Leave a Comment

    Mass migration of species to cooler climes has profound implications for society, pushing disease-carrying insects, crop pests and crucial pollinators into new areas, says international team of scientists

    , environment editor  The Guardian UK  Thursday 30 March 2017 Full article here

    Global warming is reshuffling the ranges of animals and plants around the world with profound consequences for humanity, according to a major new analysis. Rising temperatures on land and sea are increasingly forcing species to migrate to cooler climes, pushing disease-carrying insects into new areas, moving the pests that attack crops and shifting the pollinators that fertilise many of them, an international team of scientists has said.

    They warn that some movements will damage important industries, such as forestry and tourism, and that tensions are emerging between nations over shifting natural resources, such as fish stocks. The mass migration of species now underway around the planet can also amplify climate change as, for example, darker vegetation grows to replace sun-reflecting snow fields in the Arctic.

    Human survival, for urban and rural communities, depends on other life on Earth,” the experts write in their analysis published in the journal Science. “Climate change is impelling a universal redistribution of life on Earth.”…

  9. Loss of plant species triggers the extinction of animals

    Leave a Comment

    January 4, 2017 ScienceDaily  see full article here

    When plant species disappear due to climate change, this may lead to the subsequent loss of various animal species. Insects which depend on interactions with specific plant partners are particularly threatened. Plants, in contrast, will be less sensitive to the disappearance of their animal partners….

    ….[they] modeled the vulnerability of more than 700 European plant and animal species to future climate change. For the first time, they combined these models with data on interactions of plants with their animal pollinators and seed dispersers. The simulation indicates that the initial spark for extinction cascades as a result of climate change mostly originates from plant species and is indirectly transferred to animal species.

    This domino effect is a particular threat to animal species that only interact with a small number of plant species, since they are more sensitive to climate change than generalists….

    …“A consideration of biotic interactions between animals and plants is therefore important for predicting the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.”

    Matthias Schleuning et al. Ecological networks are more sensitive to plant than to animal extinction under climate change. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 13965 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13965

  10. Carbon is not the enemy– the new language of carbon by innovative architect Wm. McDonough

    Leave a Comment

    Design with the natural cycle in mind to ensure that carbon ends up in the right places, urges William McDonough

    by William McDonough  NATURE

    carbon — the element — is not the enemy. Climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and for the wrong duration. It is we who have made carbon toxic — like lead in our drinking water or nitrates in our rivers. In the right place, carbon is a resource and a tool.

    Carbon dioxide is the currency of photosynthesis, a source of Earth’s capacity for regeneration. Soil carbon is the guarantor of healthy ecosystems and food and water security. Carbon atoms are the building blocks of life. Wool, cotton and silk are carbon compounds, as are many industrial polymers and pure ‘supercarbons’ such as diamonds and graphene.

    …Rather than declare war on carbon emissions, we can work with carbon in all its forms. To enable a new relationship with carbon, I propose a new language — living, durable and fugitive — to define ways in which carbon can be used safely, productively and profitably. Aspirational and clear, it signals positive intentions, enjoining us to do more good rather than simply be less bad...

    ….(summarized by Marianna Grossman):

    William McDonough, innovative architect and author, recently published in the journal Nature a new framework for managing carbon as an asset. Instead of considering carbon as something to eliminate, he recommends improving our designs by thinking about carbon in these ways:

    • Living carbon: organic, flowing in biological cycles, providing fresh food, healthy forests and fertile soil; something we want to cultivate and grow
    • Durable carbon: locked in stable solids such as coal and limestone or recyclable polymers that are used and reused; ranges from reusable fibers like paper and cloth, to building and infrastructure elements that can last for generations and then be reused
    • Fugitive carbon: has ended up somewhere unwanted and can be toxic; includes carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, ‘waste to energy’ plants, methane leaks, deforestation, much industrial agriculture and urban development

    The goal is to eliminate fugitive carbon and to direct it to living or durable uses, thereby reducing fugitive carbon in the atmosphere and oceans using these strategies:

    The new approach also identifies three strategies for carbon management and climate change:

    • Carbon positive: actions converting atmospheric carbon to forms that enhance soil nutrition or to durable forms such as polymers and solid aggregates; also recycling of carbon into nutrients from organic materials, food waste, compostable polymers and sewers
    • Carbon neutral: actions that transform or maintain carbon in durable Earth-bound forms and cycles across generations; or renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydropower that do not release carbon
    • Carbon negative: actions that pollute the land, water and atmosphere with various forms of carbon, for example, CO2 and methane into the atmosphere or plastics in the ocean

    Nature 539,349–351 () doi:10.1038/539349a