Climate change and ecosystems


Dr. Craig Loehle of NCASI is the author of a recent paper titled “Criteria for assessing climate change impacts on ecosystems” published in Ecology and Evolution (doi: 10.1002/ece3.7). The article is available online at
The abstract follows.

“There is concern about the potential impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. To address this concern, a large body of literature has developed in which these impacts are assessed. In this study, criteria for conducting reliable and useful assessments of impacts of future climate are suggested. The major decisions involve: clearly defining an emissions scenario; selecting a climate model; evaluating climate model skill and bias; quantifying General Circulation Model (GCM) between-model variability; selecting an ecosystem model and assessing uncertainty; properly considering transient versus equilibrium responses; including effects of CO2 on plant response; evaluating implications of simplifying assumptions; and considering animal linkage with vegetation. A sample of the literature was surveyed in light of these criteria. Many of the studies used climate simulations that were >10 years old and not representative of best current models. Future effects of elevated CO2 on plant drought resistance and productivity were generally included in growth model studies but not in niche (habitat suitability) studies, causing the latter to forecast greater future adverse impacts. Overly simplified spatial representation was frequent and caused the existence of refugia to be underestimated. Few studies compared multiple climate simulations and ecosystem models (including parametric uncertainty), leading to a false impression of precision and potentially arbitrary results due to high between-model variance. No study assessed climate model retrodictive skill or bias. Overall, most current studies fail to meet all of the proposed criteria. Suggestions for improving assessments are provided.” 

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