Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Does history repeat? Using the past to improve ecological forecasting

21.02.2012
To better predict the future, Jack Williams is looking to the past.

"Environmental change is altering the composition and function of ecological communities," says the Bryson Professor of Climate, People, and the Environment in the University of Wisconsin–Madison geography department. Williams also directs the Center for Climatic Research in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

On Monday, Feb. 20, Williams is speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, British Columbia. In a talk titled, "Novel Climates, No-Analog Communities, and Truncated Niches," he discusses the challenges involved in making informed predictions about how ecological communities will respond to changing climate.

Right now global climates are changing rapidly and it is likely that this century will see the emergence of what he calls "no-analog" climates, combinations of climate factors – such as maximum and minimum temperature, amount and timing of precipitation, and seasonal variation – that do not exist anywhere on the globe today.

"There are areas of the world that are expected to develop novel climates this century," Williams says. "How do we predict species' responses to climates that are outside the modern range?"

To look at how ecological changes have been driven by past climate change, he draws on a recent historical period of abrupt global change – the late Quaternary Period, particularly the past 20,000 years, when the world warmed from the last ice age to the current interglacial period.

With geohistorical and paleoecological data – derived largely from fossil pollen – he studies the responses of species and communities to climates that no longer exist today.

"We are using this as a model system for looking at the biological responses to climate change, in particular this phenomenon of no-analog climates," he explains.

The biological record reveals that species were highly sensitive to past climate changes, responding in multiple ways including migration, adaptation, changes in population size, and, in some cases, extinction.

But species distribution models, which are widely used to forecast ecological responses to future climate change, match imperfectly to the historical data, presenting a challenge for predicting how today's species will respond to current and future climate change. Even more difficult is scaling up from individual species to understanding the shifting composition of ecological communities.

Williams' historical perspective has revealed that the only sure thing is change. "The key message from paleoecological data is that novel climates in the past are linked to the emergence of novel communities," he says. "We should expect the unexpected. At the same time, we can use this information to not just raise questions but to improve ecological modeling tools."

One current avenue of research is combining modern and paleobiological data to look at individual species under a range of climate conditions.

"Using only modern data may lead us to misestimate the ability of species to adapt to accommodate to climates different from today," Williams explains. "By combining data from multiple time periods, we can develop a fuller understanding of the full range of environments that a species can occupy – which may be far greater than what is observed at any one moment in time."

Improved species distribution models will still need to be combined with an understanding of barriers to adaptation, such as habitat continuity, geographic proximity, mobility, and current land use, all of which affect a species' ability to reach its new ideal range. But they represent an important step forward.

"By combining geohistorical and recent data, this is one way to improve our forecasting ability and, hopefully, our decision-making when it comes to setting conservation priorities and allocating resources," Williams says.

-- Jill Sakai, jasakai@wisc.edu, (608) 262-9772

American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting
Presentation: "Novel Climates, No-Analog Communities, and Truncated Niches"
Speaker: John W. (Jack) Williams, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Session: The Future of Ecological Communities Under Climate Change: No Analog?"
Time: Monday, February 20, 2012, 9:45 a.m.
Place: Room 116-117 (VCC West Building)

Jack Williams | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Minimized water consumption in CSP plants - EU project MinWaterCSP is making good progress
05.12.2017 | Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum

nachricht Jena Experiment: Loss of species destroys ecosystems
28.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

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: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

Im Focus: A transistor of graphene nanoribbons

Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."

Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

Blockchain is becoming more important in the energy market

05.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Making fuel out of thick air

08.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Rules for superconductivity mirrored in 'excitonic insulator'

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

Smartphone case offers blood glucose monitoring on the go

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>