Climate change and ecosystems
Unchecked global warming could affect most terrestrial ecoregions. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems will change; some species are being forced out of their habitats (possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others are flourishing. Secondary effects of global warming, such as lessened snow cover, rising sea levels, and weather changes, may influence not only human activities but also the ecosystem.
For the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, experts assessed the literature on the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Rosenzweig et al. (2007) concluded that over the last three decades, human-induced warming had likely had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems (p. 81). Schneider et al. (2007) concluded, with very high confidence, that regional temperature trends had already affected species and ecosystems around the world (p. 792). With high confidence, they concluded that climate change would result in the extinction of many species and a reduction in the diversity of ecosystems (p. 792).
- Terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity: With a warming of 3°C, relative to 1990 levels, it is likely that global terrestrial vegetation would become a net source of carbon (Schneider et al., 2007:792). With high confidence, Schneider et al. (2007:788) concluded that a global mean temperature increase of around 4°C (above the 1990-2000 level) by 2100 would lead to major extinctions around the globe.
- Marine ecosystems and biodiversity: With very high confidence, Schneider et al. (2007:792) concluded that a warming of 2°C above 1990 levels would result in mass mortality of coral reefs globally.
- Freshwater ecosystems: Above about a 4°C increase in global mean temperature by 2100 (relative to 1990-2000), Schneider et al. (2007:789) concluded, with high confidence, that many freshwater species would become extinct.
Studying the association between Earth climate and extinctions over the past 520 million years, scientists from the University of York write, "The global temperatures predicted for the coming centuries may trigger a new ‘mass extinction event’, where over 50 per cent of animal and plant species would be wiped out."
Many of the species at risk are Arctic and Antarctic fauna such as polar bears and emperor penguins. In the Arctic, the waters of Hudson Bay are ice-free for three weeks longer than they were thirty years ago, affecting polar bears, which prefer to hunt on sea ice. Species that rely on cold weather conditions such as gyrfalcons, and snowy owls that prey on lemmings that use the cold winter to their advantage may be hit hard. Marine invertebrates enjoy peak growth at the temperatures they have adapted to, regardless of how cold these may be, and cold-blooded animals found at greater latitudes and altitudes generally grow faster to compensate for the short growing season. Warmer-than-ideal conditions result in higher metabolism and consequent reductions in body size despite increased foraging, which in turn elevates the risk of predation. Indeed, even a slight increase in temperature during development impairs growth efficiency and survival rate in rainbow trout.
Rising temperatures are beginning to have a noticeable impact on birds, and butterflies have shifted their ranges northward by 200 km in Europe and North America. Plants lag behind, and larger animals' migration is slowed down by cities and roads. In Britain, spring butterflies are appearing an average of 6 days earlier than two decades ago.
A 2002 article in Nature surveyed the scientific literature to find recent changes in range or seasonal behaviour by plant and animal species. Of species showing recent change, 4 out of 5 shifted their ranges towards the poles or higher altitudes, creating "refugee species". Frogs were breeding, flowers blossoming and birds migrating an average 2.3 days earlier each decade; butterflies, birds and plants moving towards the poles by 6.1 km per decade. A 2005 study concludes human activity is the cause of the temperature rise and resultant changing species behaviour, and links these effects with the predictions of climate models to provide validation for them. Scientists have observed that Antarctic hair grass is colonizing areas of Antarctica where previously their survival range was limited.
Mechanistic studies have documented extinctions due to recent climate change: McLaughlin et al. documented two populations of Bay checkerspot butterfly being threatened by precipitation change. Parmesan states, "Few studies have been conducted at a scale that encompasses an entire species" and McLaughlin et al. agreed "few mechanistic studies have linked extinctions to recent climate change." Daniel Botkin and other authors in one study believe that projected rates of extinction are overestimated. For "recent" extinctions, see Holocene extinction.
Many species of freshwater and saltwater plants and animals are dependent on glacier-fed waters to ensure a cold water habitat that they have adapted to. Some species of freshwater fish need cold water to survive and to reproduce, and this is especially true with salmon and cutthroat trout. Reduced glacier runoff can lead to insufficient stream flow to allow these species to thrive. Ocean krill, a cornerstone species, prefer cold water and are the primary food source for aquatic mammals such as the blue whale. Alterations to the ocean currents, due to increased freshwater inputs from glacier melt, and the potential alterations to thermohaline circulation of the worlds oceans, may affect existing fisheries upon which humans depend as well.
The white lemuroid possum, only found in the Daintree mountain forests of northern Queensland, may be the first mammal species to be driven extinct by global warming in Australia. In 2008, the white possum has not been seen in over three years. The possums cannot survive extended temperatures over 30 °C (86 °F), which occurred in 2005.
A 27-year study of the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world, published in 2014, found that extreme weather caused by climate change is responsible for killing 7% of penguin chicks per year on average, and in some years studied climate change accounted for up to 50% of all chick deaths. Since 1987, the number of breeding pairs in the colony has reduced by 24%.
Pine forests in British Columbia have been devastated by a pine beetle infestation, which has expanded unhindered since 1998 at least in part due to the lack of severe winters since that time; a few days of extreme cold kill most mountain pine beetles and have kept outbreaks in the past naturally contained. The infestation, which (by November 2008) has killed about half of the province's lodgepole pines (33 million acres or 135,000 km²) is an order of magnitude larger than any previously recorded outbreak. One reason for unprecedented host tree mortality may be due to that the mountain pine beetles have higher reproductive success in lodgepole pine trees growing in areas where the trees have not experienced frequent beetle epidemics, which includes much of the current outbreak area. In 2007 the outbreak spread, via unusually strong winds, over the continental divide to Alberta. An epidemic also started, be it at a lower rate, in 1999 in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The United States forest service predicts that between 2011 and 2013 virtually all 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of Colorado’s lodgepole pine trees over five inches (127 mm) in diameter will be lost.
As the northern forests are a carbon sink, while dead forests are a major carbon source, the loss of such large areas of forest has a positive feedback on global warming. In the worst years, the carbon emission due to beetle infestation of forests in British Columbia alone approaches that of an average year of forest fires in all of Canada or five years worth of emissions from that country's transportation sources.
Besides the immediate ecological and economic impact, the huge dead forests provide a fire risk. Even many healthy forests appear to face an increased risk of forest fires because of warming climates. The 10-year average of boreal forest burned in North America, after several decades of around 10,000 km² (2.5 million acres), has increased steadily since 1970 to more than 28,000 km² (7 million acres) annually. Though this change may be due in part to changes in forest management practices, in the western U.S., since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986. A similar increase in wildfire activity has been reported in Canada from 1920 to 1999.
Forest fires in Indonesia have dramatically increased since 1997 as well. These fires are often actively started to clear forest for agriculture. They can set fire to the large peat bogs in the region and the CO₂released by these peat bog fires has been estimated, in an average year, to be 15% of the quantity of CO₂produced by fossil fuel combustion.
Mountains cover approximately 25 percent of earth's surface and provide a home to more than one-tenth of global human population. Changes in global climate pose a number of potential risks to mountain habitats. Researchers expect that over time, climate change will affect mountain and lowland ecosystems, the frequency and intensity of forest fires, the diversity of wildlife, and the distribution of water.
Studies suggest that a warmer climate in the United States would cause lower-elevation habitats to expand into the higher alpine zone. Such a shift would encroach on the rare alpine meadows and other high-altitude habitats. High-elevation plants and animals have limited space available for new habitat as they move higher on the mountains in order to adapt to long-term changes in regional climate.
Changes in climate will also affect the depth of the mountains snowpacks and glaciers. Any changes in their seasonal melting can have powerful impacts on areas that rely on freshwater runoff from mountains. Rising temperature may cause snow to melt earlier and faster in the spring and shift the timing and distribution of runoff. These changes could affect the availability of freshwater for natural systems and human uses.
- According to a paper by Smith and Hitz (2003:66), it is reasonable to assume that the relationship between increased global mean temperature and ecosystem productivity is parabolic. Higher carbon dioxide concentrations will favourably affect plant growth and demand for water. Higher temperatures could initially be favourable for plant growth. Eventually, increased growth would peak then decline.
- According to IPCC (2007:11), a global average temperature increase exceeding 1.5–2.5°C (relative to the period 1980–99), would likely have a predominantly negative impact on ecosystem goods and services, e.g., water and food supply.
- Research done by the Swiss Canopy Crane Project suggests that slow-growing trees only are stimulated in growth for a short period under higher CO2 levels, while faster growing plants like liana benefit in the long term. In general, but especially in rainforests, this means that liana become the prevalent species; and because they decompose much faster than trees their carbon content is more quickly returned to the atmosphere. Slow growing trees incorporate atmospheric carbon for decades.
In 2010, a gray whale was found in the Mediterranean Sea, even though the species had not been seen in the North Atlantic Ocean since the 18th century. The whale is thought to have migrated from the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic. Climate Change & European Marine Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) has also reported that the Neodenticula seminae alga has been found in the North Atlantic, where it had gone extinct nearly 800,000 years ago. The alga has drifted from the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic, following the reduction in polar ice.
In the Siberian subarctic, species migration is contributing to another warming albedo-feedback, as needle-shedding larch trees are being replaced with dark-foliage evergreen conifers which can absorb some of the solar radiation that previously reflected off the snowpack beneath the forest canopy. It has been projected many fish species will migrate towards the North and South poles as a result of climate change, and that many species of fish near the Equator will go extinct as a result of global warming.
Migratory birds are especially at risk for endangerment due to the extreme dependability on temperature and air pressure for migration, foraging, growth, and reproduction. Much research has been done on the effects of climate change on birds, both for future predictions and for conservation. The species said to be most at risk for endangerment or extinction are populations that are not of conservation concern.  It is predicted that a 3.5 degree increase in surface temperature will occur by year 2100, which could result in between 600 and 900 extinctions, which mainly will occur in the tropical environments.
||This section may stray from the topic of the article into the topic of another article, Climate change and agriculture. (December 2013)|
||This section may not properly summarize its corresponding main article.|
Droughts have been occurring more frequently because of global warming and they are expected to become more frequent and intense in Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, most of the Americas, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Their impacts are aggravated because of increased water demand, population growth, urban expansion, and environmental protection efforts in many areas. Droughts result in crop failures and the loss of pasture grazing land for livestock.
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with North America and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2013)|
Droughts are becoming more frequent and intense in arid and semiarid western North America as temperatures have been rising, advancing the timing and magnitude of spring snow melt ﬂoods and reducing river flow volume in summer. Direct effects of climate change include increased heat and water stress, altered crop phenology, and disrupted symbiotic interactions. These effects may be exacerbated by climate changes in river ﬂow, and the combined effects are likely to reduce the abundance of native trees in favor of non-native herbaceous and drought-tolerant competitors, reduce the habitat quality for many native animals, and slow litter decomposition and nutrient cycling. Climate change effects on human water demand and irrigation may intensify these effects. By 2012, North American corn prices had risen to a record $8.34 per bushel in August, leaving 20 of the 211 U.S. ethanol fuel plants idle.
- Rosenzweig, C. et al. (2007). "Assessment of observed changes and responses in natural and managed systems. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [M.L. Parry et al. (eds.)]". Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., and New York, N.Y., U.S.A. pp. 79–131. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
- Schneider, S.H. et al. (2007). "Assessing key vulnerabilities and the risk from climate change. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [M.L. Parry et al. (eds.)]". Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., and New York, N.Y., U.S.A. pp. 779–810. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
- Mayhew, Peter J; Gareth B. Jenkins; Timothy G. Benton (October 23, 2007). "A long-term association between global temperature and biodiversity, origination and extinction in the fossil record". Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Royal Society Publishing) 275 (1630): 47–53. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.1302. PMC 2562410. PMID 17956842. Retrieved 2007-10-30.
- Amstrup, Steven C.; Ian Stirling, Tom S. Smith, Craig Perham, Gregory W. Thiemann (2006-04-27). "Recent observations of intraspecific predation and cannibalism among polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea". Polar Biology 29 (11): 997–1002. doi:10.1007/s00300-006-0142-5.
- Le Bohec, Céline; Joël M. Durant, Michel Gauthier-Clerc, Nils C. Stenseth, Young-Hyang Park, Roger Pradel, David Grémillet, Jean-Paul Gendner, and Yvon Le Maho (2008-02-11). "King penguin population threatened by Southern Ocean warming" (abstract). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105 (7): 2493–7. Bibcode:2008PNAS..105.2493L. doi:10.1073/pnas.0712031105. PMC 2268164. PMID 18268328. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- On Thinning Ice Michael Byers London Review of Books January 2005
- Pertti Koskimies (compiler) (1999). "International Species Action Plan for the Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolis" (PDF). BirdLife International. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
- "Snowy Owl" (PDF). University of Alaska. 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
- Arendt, J.D. (1997). "Adaptive intrinsic growth rates: an integration across taxa". The Quarterly Review of Biology 72 (2): 149–177. doi:10.1086/419764. ISSN 0033-5770. JSTOR 3036336.
- Biro, P.A. et al. (June 2007). "Mechanisms for climate-induced mortality of fish populations in whole-lake experiments". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 104 (23): 9715–9. Bibcode:2007PNAS..104.9715B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0701638104. ISSN 1091-6490. PMC 1887605. PMID 17535908.
- Time Hirsch (2005-10-05). "Animals 'hit by global warming'". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-12-29.
- Walther, Gian-Reto; Eric Post; Peter Convey; Annette Menzel; Camille Parmesan; Trevor J. C. Beebee; Jean-Marc Fromentin; Ove Hoegh-Guldberg; Franz Bairlein (March 28, 2002). "Ecological responses to recent climate change" (PDF). Nature 416 (6879): 389–95. doi:10.1038/416389a. PMID 11919621.
- Root, Terry L.; Jeff T. Price, Kimberly R. Hall, Stephen H. Schneider, Cynthia Rosenzweig & Alan Pounds (2003-01-02). "Fingerprints of global warming on animals and plants". Nature 421 (6918): 57–9. Bibcode:2003Natur.421...57R. doi:10.1038/nature01333. PMID 12511952. Retrieved 2008-02-13. [dead link]
- Grass flourishes in warmer Antarctic originally from The Times, December 2004
- McLaughlin, John F. et al. (2002-04-30). "Climate change hastens population extinctions" (PDF). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99 (9): 6070–4. Bibcode:2002PNAS...99.6070M. doi:10.1073/pnas.052131199. PMC 122903. PMID 11972020. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-06-04. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- Permesan, Camille (2006-08-24). "Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change" (PDF). Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 37: 637–69. doi:10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.37.091305.110100. Retrieved 2007-03-30.
- Botkin, Daniel B. et al. (March 2007). "Forecasting the Effects of Global Warming on Biodiversity" (PDF). BioScience 57 (3): 227–236. doi:10.1641/B570306. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
- Lovell, Jeremy (2002-09-09). "Warming Could End Antarctic Species". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
- Malkin, Bonnie (2008-12-03). "Australia's white possum could be first victim of climate change - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- "Penguins suffering from climate change, scientists say". The Guardian. January 30, 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Fountain, Henry (January 29, 2014). "For Already Vulnerable Penguins, Study Finds Climate Change Is Another Danger". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Fountain, Henry (January 29, 2014). "For Already Vulnerable Penguins, Study Finds Climate Change Is Another Danger". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Natural Resources Canada
- Jim Robbins, Beetles Kill Millions of Acres of Trees in West, New York Times, 17 November 2008
- Kurz WA, Dymond CC, Stinson G et al. (April 2008). "Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change". Nature 452 (7190): 987–90. Bibcode:2008Natur.452..987K. doi:10.1038/nature06777. PMID 18432244.
- Cudmore TJ, Björklund N, Carrollbbb, AL. Lindgren BS. (2010). "Climate change and range expansion of an aggressive bark beetle: evidence of higher reproductive success in naïve host tree populations". Journal of Applied Ecology 47 (5): 1036–43. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01848.x.
- Pine Forests Destroyed by Beetle Takeover, NPR'sTalk of the Nation, April 25, 2008
- US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change Regional Paper: Alaska
- Running SW (August 2006). "Climate change. Is Global Warming causing More, Larger Wildfires?". Science 313 (5789): 927–8. doi:10.1126/science.1130370. PMID 16825534.
- BBC News: Asian peat fires add to warming
- Nogués-Bravoa D., Araújoc M.B., Erread M.P., Martínez-Ricad J.P. (August–October 2007). "Exposure of global mountain systems to climate warming during the 21st Century". Global Environmental 17 (3–4): 420–8. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2006.11.007.
- The Potential Effects Of Global Climate Change On The United States Report to Congress Editors: Joel B. Smith and Dennis Tirpak US-EPA December 1989
- "Freshwater Issues at ‘Heart of Humankind’S Hopes for Peace and Development’" (Press release). United Nations. 2002-12-12. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- Smith, J. and Hitz, S. (2003). "OECD Workshop on the Benefits of Climate Policy: Improving Information for Policy Makers. Background Paper: Estimating Global Impacts from Climate Change" (PDF). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
- IPCC (2007). "Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [M.L. Parry et al. (eds.)]". Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., and New York, N.Y., U.S.A. pp. 7–22. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
- Tuesday, 26 July 2011 (27 June 2011). "Plankton species reappears (after being extinct for 800,000 years)". Mother Nature Network. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
- Shuman, Jacquelyn Kremper; Herman Henry Shugart; Thomas Liam O'Halloran (2011). "Sensitivity of Siberian Larch forests to climate change". Global Change Biology 17 (7): 2370–2384. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02417.x.
- "Russian Boreal Forests Undergoing Vegetation Change, Study Shows".
- Jones, M. C.; Cheung, W. W. L. (10 October 2014). "Multi-model ensemble projections of climate change effects on global marine biodiversity". ICES Journal of Marine Science. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsu172.
- Foden, W.B. et al. (2013). "Identifying the world's most climate change vulnerable species: A systematic trait-based assessment of all birds, amphibians, and corals.".
- Sekercioglu, C. H., Primack, R. B., & Wormworth, J. (2012). "The effects of climate change on tropical birds.". Biological Conservation, Volume 148, Issue 1.
- Dai, A. (2011). "Drought under global warming: A review". Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 2: 45–65. doi:10.1002/wcc.81.
- Mishra, A. K.; Singh, V. P. (2011). "Drought modeling – A review". Journal of Hydrology 403: 157. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2011.03.049.
- Ding, Y.; Hayes, M. J.; Widhalm, M. (2011). "Measuring economic impacts of drought: A review and discussion". Disaster Prevention and Management 20 (4): 434. doi:10.1108/09653561111161752.
- "Vulnerability of riparian ecosystems to elevated CO2 and climate change in arid and semiarid western North America" Global Change Biology (2012) vol. 18, pp. 821–842, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02588.x
- "Corn shortage idles 20 ethanol plants nationwide" Associated Press, February 10, 2013
- Barnosky, Anthony D. (March 13, 2009). Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming (1st ed.). Shearwater. ISBN 978-1-59726-197-5.
- NRC (2008). "Ecological Impacts of Climate Change". The National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001, USA. p. 70. Retrieved 2010-03-13.
- Rosset V., Lehmann A. & Oertli B. (2010). "Warmer and richer? Predicting the impact of climate warming on species richness in small temperate waterbodies". Global Change Biology 16(8): 2376-2387. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02206.x.
- The IPCC Working Group II (WG II) website. This body assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it.
- Health and environmental effects of climate change – US Environmental Protection Agency
- The Infography about Climate Change and Biodiversity
- See the impacts of climate change happening now on three Australian ecosystems: 'Tipping Point', Catalyst, ABC-TV
- Climate Change: Coral Reefs on the Edge An online video presentation by Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, University of Auckland