The risks of climate change for terrestrial ecosystems

A study published in the Nature ecology & evolution made a retrospective on the issue

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The risks of climate change for terrestrial ecosystems
© Christopher Furlong / Staff Getty Images

Added to the natural factors that aggravate climate change is obviously the influence of man who, through the use of fossil fuels, releases large quantities of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, increasing the action of the greenhouse effect and generating climate warming which increases the average global temperature of the Earth, with consequences such as desertification, rising and acidifying the oceans, and more frequent extreme atmospheric phenomena.

The change in the Earth's climate is still underway and the scientific community attributes this change to the emissions of increasing quantities of greenhouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere and to other factors all attributable to human activity.

Climate crisis
Climate crisis© Mario Tama / Staff Getty Images

What are the risks of climate change for terrestrial ecosystems?

The study Reassessment of the risks of climate change for terrestrial ecosystems, published in the Nature ecology & evolution, provided an interesting retrospective on the topic.

In their abstract, the researchers analyzed: "Forecasting the risks of climate change for species and ecosystems is necessary for developing targeted conservation strategies. Previous risk assessments mapped the exposure of the global land surface to changes in climate.

However, this procedure is unlikely to robustly identify priority areas for conservation actions because nonlinear physiological responses and colimitation processes ensure that ecological changes will not map perfectly to the forecast climatic changes.

Here, we combine ecophysiological growth models of 135,153 vascular plant species and plant growth-form information to transform environment and future climatologies into phytoclimates, which describe the ability of climates to support the plant growth forms that characterize terrestrial ecosystems.

We predict that 33% to 68% of the global land surface will experience a significant change in phytoclimate by 2070 under representative concentration pathways RCP 2.6 and RCP 8.5, respectively. Phytoclimates without present-day analogue are forecast to emerge on 0.3-2.2% of the land surface and 0.1-1.3% of currently realized phytoclimates are forecast to disappear.

Notably, the geographic pattern of change, disappearance and novelty of phytoclimates differs markedly from the pattern of analogous trends in climates detected by previous studies, thereby defining new priorities for conservation actions and highlighting the limits of using untransformed climate change exposure indices in ecological risk assessments.

Our findings suggest that a profound transformation of the biosphere is underway and emphasize the need for a timely adaptation of biodiversity management practices."