With New Years rolling around, we might assess where we stand in this big world for 2012. With the New Year comes resolutions, and we get called in to do something that means something, maybe something for someone or something. This year, we might resolve to do something incredibly meaningful.
Resolve…. to better our little corner of space that we steward for the time we are here. The place we don’t really ‘own’ on this Earth, the place we are a temporary caretaker.
And how do we resolve this in reference to weather? In light of recent research and weather models, it is not too much a stretch to say ‘we’ are careless caretakers and have been for a very long time. I mean ‘we’ as generalized in the greater sense of ‘we’, the many, but not the all. Certainly not those readers in this forum. But we can do more, always meaningfully more.
The models predicting climate change are pretty frightening as of late. Changing weather patterning, a result of climate change, will transform about 40 percent of earth’s land surface into another entirely different ecological system. If we continue on the current path, we will be forced to weather the consequence.
The redistribution of many plant species is shifting because of climate change along with the changes in land use, both natural and man-made.
The insects and herbivores will likely accompany plant species redistribution, but not simultaneously if predictions and observations are correct.
Findings have shown that plants that range northward because of climate change may be better at defending themselves against local enemies than native plants. Some studies postulate that the newly invasive species will be winning the battle of survival against the native plants out of a simple reason of taste preference.
The invasive species will not appeal to the herbivores and insects which will choose native plants of which they are accustomed. The weed plants, having an unjust advantage, would then receive the reward of pollination without the ramification of being eaten. At least until their specific predator finds its way to the area. Studies presuppose that an arrival disparity of timing will occur.
To further complicate the issue, controlled research study found that while the insects still pollinated the native species, they also pollinated the weeds equally, producing a weed/native hybrid of seed. But the resulting plant was not as healthy and often did not live to full maturity. I am guessing in some case, certain hybrids would develop to be more robust, but have no benefit to the ecosystem. This is how ecosystems will transform and in a short time we will be weathering the outcome.
We are seeing these changes with insects moving into formally colder areas of the country. The success of exotic plants expanding their range in response to warmer climates will be an additional threat to biodiversity. And determining whether species can survive within a habitat seems to depend on the biodiversity of the ecological community in which it finds itself.
And does biodiversity matter? It increases ecosystem productivity, where even the smallest species has an important role to fill. Ecosystems can recover from disaster when there are more players in the pool. More plant species equals a greater variety of crops, and greater species diversity equals a better and larger workforce to ensure a sustainability for the life within the ecosystem.
The ecosystem is a working system offering services that are free to us and we often abuse or take for them for granted. The system protect the water, form the soil, recycle nutrients, absorb pollution, clean the air (think trees) and help keep the climate stable and comfortable. And that is just a portion of nature’s free miracles.
So what’s next?
Studies have modeled the effects of climate change on flowering plants and their respective pollinators to see where this may lead. It has been known for a long time that climate change alters the timing of when plants flower and when their pollinating insects emerge. But a more recent development finds that the earlier warming soils cause dormant seeds to change their hormonal sensitivity to plant hormones. Knowledge of these processes will help scientists to predict the impact that future climate change will have on native plants and the invasives that compete.
What studies have found and what is being noticed in temperate climates, is that blossoming and emergence are occurring even earlier in some areas as a result of the warming trend associated with climate change.
The term for these species that rely on each other for survival within an ecosystem is being called ‘mutualists’. What is now being investigated is if climate change may be causing the mutualists to be active at differing times. It is not too hard to see where this may lead. It could lead to the extinction of both if their innate process of evolution cannot keep pace with that of the recent rapidity of change. Scientists are looking now to see if evolution itself can lessen the inimical effect of the off-timing for the mutualist pairings.
Research has found that evolution, in limited cases, may be able to save the plants that would otherwise become extinct, but that their survival would then be dependent on the density and distribution of alternative pollinators within their ecosystem. So here again is a reason biodiversity is important. But is biodiversity getting a ‘helping’ hand with species that are new to an already functioning and successful ecosystem? If the climate changes in a domino effect to the system, then what?
Mutualists are likely to be especially sensitive to rapid climate change, according to the study, and pairings could be broken. I cannot download the full paper but if you have society membership or are an educator, you can get it here. Some of the excerpts were reported in Science Daily.
“In such cases, habitat fragmentation or loss of native pollinators might compound the threat of climate change to mutualisms,” said Tucker Gilman, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and the paper’s lead author.
“The results are troubling because anthropogenic (or human caused) climate change is thought to be happening up to ten times faster than any natural climate change in the past 500,000 years,” Gilman said. “This means that mutualisms that have survived past climate change events may still be vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change.” source.
But the problems are much bigger than the plant and insect life on the move. The redistribution of plants are but a symptom, a way to recognize the bigger problems, and an opportunistic result of climate change for some species, but a death sentence to others.
We are displacing ecosystems and responsible for increasing habitat loss, among a host of other problems affecting this delicate issue, like clean air and potable water for example. It really has hit a critical time where the people of this world really need to assess their circumstance and understand what is likely if they continue to ignore the predictions or doubt their validity.
The chart below illustrates why everybody should care. I personally live in a red zone where it is 100 percent likely my area will convert to a whole new ecological type. I will be gone before 2100, but that does not mean I am blameless or should not want this path reversed. Here is a downloadable pdf link to the full paper explaining the issue called:
Ecological sensitivity: a biospheric view of climate change by Jon C. Bergengren · Duane E. Waliser · Yuk L. Yung.
In the light of recent news headlines out of NASA, they are predicting by 2100 that plant communities will be modified to the extent of converting nearly 40% of land based ecosystems from one ecological type to another, meaning forests could be converted as well as grasslands and tundras to something else. Climate change is really upon us and is not a farce.
“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.” This information was researched from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and reported by Science Daily.
The article goes on to say, “The U.N. report’s climate simulations predict a warmer and wetter Earth, with global temperature increases of 3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, about the same warming that occurred following the Last Glacial Maximum almost 20,000 years ago, except about 100 times faster. Under the scenario, some regions become wetter because of enhanced evaporation, while others become drier due to changes in atmospheric circulation.”
I think what they are not sufficiently reporting is what a change of only a degree or two actually means for life as we know it. Recent studies show that a one degree rise separates us from a point of no return where the threat of climate change becomes irreversible. So what does this mean?
“A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much. In the past, a one- to two-degree drop was all it took to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age.
A five-degree drop was enough to bury a large part of North America under a towering mass of ice 20,000 years ago.” as reported by NASA Earth Observatory.
This area, the Niagara Escarpment, was covered with a sheet of ice around 1.8 miles thick of the Wisconsin Glacier 23,000 – 12,000 years ago. So are we headed that way again or the other direction being baked into oblivion?
Actually, what is predicted for our area is to undergo the great degree of species turnover. And where do the displaced and replaced go?
A frightening possibility of 7.2 degrees of change would put an end to us as a species, as indicated by other reports and models.
Ultimately, we must realize that our place is a habitat within, not a community beyond the shared ecosystem. That, or we will be driven out by changing weather and NASA will be on the lookout for a new place to put us. Maybe NASA can get funding to research sending us off into space. But I would question that too if it is anything like what happens in the movies. See my post Happy Monday from Pandora. That poor planet did not need us showing up.
The next post in this series is entitled, “I Wish It Mattered”. It talks about the current approach and is illustrated by a strong statement from one expert. It is a look at things we do to ‘help’ the environment and realistically accessing their impact.
The following post will look at “Sustainability” and how it was considered very early in the 1900’s and where we are today. What ideas were good and those that were not implemented to plan when it was feasibly possible to do so. It is a look at how we are weathering decisions previously made and how some might be choices made for the immediate future if we revisit our past.
If you have a take on Weathering, join in.
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