Thursday, December 24, 2009

Climate Change and the Velocity of the Shifting Niche

A little more than a month ago, I posted a three-part series on the topic of ecological niches with specific reference to their ability to track the ever shifting variables of climate. In large part drawn from research out of UC Berkeley and the ongoing Grinnell Project, those posts focused on the weather patterns associated with the mountainous terrain of Yosemite National Park. Today, Nature published a letter in which other California based scientists have extrapolated the shifting niche model in order to estimate the anticipated ‘velocity’ of temperature change across different biomes.

The ability of an organism to confront ever-shifting environmental attributes with resilience and flexibility is critical to maintaining lineages with the capacity to undergo the morphological and behavioral modifications required for continued survival. Regardless if such elastic traits are realized through major swings in ontogenic development, or through the advent of novel life-history strategies, the ability of an organism to accommodate ecological variability is essential. This biological tenet is certainly true today as anthropogenically incited climate change is forcing accelerated rates of ecological alteration.

Just how fast are these alterations occurring? How fast are the biomes moving?

In tropical and subtropical coniferous forests at a rate of 0.08 km/yr

In flooded grasslands at about 1.26 km/yr

In tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests at 0.42 km/yr

Mangroves forests 0.95 km/yr

Within Mediterranean forests, woodlands and scrub at around 0.26 km/yr

In tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests 0.33 km/yr

In temperate broadleaf and mixed forests at 0.35 km/yr

In temperate grasslands, savannas and shrublands at 0.59 km/yr

Etc… The paper offers more biome classifications.

In looking at the rates of spatially shifting biomes, the researchers found that only about “8% of global protected areas have residence times exceeding 100 years.” Niche’s are definitely on the move.

ALSO SEE: Adapting to Climate Change, the Uphill Pursuit of the Shifting Niche

Loarie, S., Duffy, P., Hamilton, H., Asner, G., Field, C., & Ackerly, D. (2009). The velocity of climate change Nature, 462 (7276), 1052-1055 DOI: 10.1038/nature08649

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