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Climate change may bring qualitative ecosystem changes

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By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth’s land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type – such as forest, grassland or tundra – toward another, according to a new NASA and university computer modeling study.

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., investigated how Earth’s plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth’s climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases…

The model projections paint a portrait of increasing ecological change and stress in Earth’s biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth’s land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover – changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.

In addition to altering plant communities, the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth’s water, energy, carbon and other element cycles…

When faced with climate change, plant species often must “migrate” over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth’s plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth’s natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

RTFA to learn more about how these scientists developed the software and models to produce this analysis. That it all is understandable is another topic. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to screw up the environment, of course.

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Written by Ed Campbell

December 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm

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