Friday, March 27, 2015

Climate change in disturbed ecosystems

Climate change poses a serious challenge for science as researchers have to develop new concepts for research and modelling to provide better and more realistic answers and predictions of what the impacts will be. INCREASE is an EU-funded infrastructure of seven large-scale climate change experiments in shrublands, which was created in 2009 to meet these challenges by further developing non-intrusive technologies for realistic climate manipulations, by devising non destructive sampling methodologies and by creating a climate change model for shrublands. INCREASE involves scientists from several European countries and is headed by professor Inger Kappel Schmidt at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Geoscience and Natural Resources Management.

Newly published results from the experimental sites confirmed the importance of disturbance for ecosystem responses to climate change:

Here we show that vegetation (abundance, species richness and species composition) across seven European shrublands is quite resistant to moderate experimental warming and drought, and responsiveness is associated with the dynamic state of the ecosystem, with recently disturbed sites responding to treatments. Furthermore, most of these responses are not rapid (2–5 years) but emerge over a longer term (7–14 years). These results suggest that successional state influences the sensitivity of ecosystems to climate change, and that ecosystems recovering from disturbances may be sensitive to even modest climatic changes.

The study demonstrates that many ecosystems are resistant to climate fluctuations. But even small climatic changes can have lasting effects on ecosystems that are subjected to disturbances which not necessarily have to be caused by humans such as fires or insect outbreaks. The research points out that disturbance and successional stage should be considered when predicting ecosystem responses to climate change and it also shows that any research bias towards undisturbed ecosystems might lead to an underestimation of the impacts of climate change.

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