Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Climate change may create tipping points for populations, not just species

21.10.2010
Researchers measure survival, reproduction of thousands of arctic and alpine plants over 6 years

As Earth's climate warms, species are expected to shift their geographical ranges away from the equator or to higher elevations. While scientists have documented such shifts for many plants and animals, the ranges of others seem stable.


A single moss campion plant shows the influence of climate change on entire populations. Credit: Tracy Feldman

When species respond in different ways to the same amount of warming, it becomes more difficult for ecologists to predict future biological effects of climate change--and to plan for these effects.

In a study published this week in the journal Nature, University of Wyoming ecologist Daniel Doak and Duke University ecologist William Morris report on a long-term study of arctic and alpine plants.

The results show why some species may be slow to shift their geographic ranges in the face of climate change, and why we might expect to see sudden shifts as warming continues.

"This study illustrates the critical need for long-term research to address our most pressing ecological challenges," says Saran Twombly, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

"Without the temporal and spatial scales employed here, we have little hope of understanding the complex ways in which organisms will respond to climate change."

The plant species targeted by Morris and Doak range from populations in the high mountains of Colorado and New Mexico to species growing along the arctic coastline in far northern Alaska.

These regions include habitats that have undergone substantial climate change, leading to the expectation, says Doak, that--especially at the southern edge of their range--populations of the plants should be collapsing.

However, after studying the growth and survival of tens of thousands of individual plants over six years, the researchers show a more complex pattern of responses.

At the southern edge of their ranges, the plants indeed show negative effects of warmer conditions, with lower survival.

"But in most years," says Doak, "these effects are balanced by plants in the south growing more rapidly, so that populations there are no less stable than those in the north."

The opposing trends mean that under current conditions, even across the huge range of conditions Morris and Doak studied, populations of these plants are doing equally well across 30 degrees of latitude--one-third the distance from the equator to the north pole.

However, the researchers' results don't indicate that these plants, or other species, will be unaffected by warming conditions.

By looking at the performance of individual plants in particularly hot and cold years, they found that the compensatory effects across moderately cold to moderately warm years (lower survival balanced by more rapid growth) will not hold up with increased warming.

Instead, in the warmest years at all study sites, both survival and growth of the plants fell.

"Up to a point," says Doak, "we may see little effect of warming for many organisms. But past a climatic tipping point, the balance of opposing effects of warming will likely cease, leading to subsequent rapid declines in populations."

While this tipping point will be different for each species, responses of natural populations to gradual shifts in climate will not necessarily in turn be gradual.

"We shouldn't interpret a lack of ecological response to past warming to mean that little or no effects are likely in the future," says Doak.

The researchers' work also points to a methodology with which to better understand and predict how climate effects on one species will combine to create overall population-wide effects.

"A key part of this approach is the need for long-term studies so we can observe and use the rare years with extreme climates to anticipate what the average future climate will bring," Doak says.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht When corals eat plastics
24.05.2018 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>