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Scientists synthesize four decades of climate change research

In a special section of the journal BioScience, a team of researchers led by the US National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network has synthesized 40 years of research on how ecosystems are responding to climate change, providing evidence that climate change is affecting our planet on every scale, from global shifts in weather patterns to changes in local ecosystems. 

The large scale of this research allows for long-term spatial and temporal analyses of change and “enhances the impact of science on environmental policy relative to short-term studies.” The scientists argue that although various ecosystem have some common responses to climate change, most of their responses are in fact unique, and emerge from a combination of region-specific drivers, human activity, and interactions between a diversity of climate drivers. 

In the lead article, researchers from Oregon State University and Syracuse University lay out the conceptual framework behind the processes driving ecosystem changes, together with the logistics of and varied results from the 28 LTER research sites which were used to collect the data.

A contribution by Hugh Ducklow (Columbia University) and his colleagues investigates the variety of ocean ecosystem responses to climate change, as well as broader marine physical system changes, including sea ice loss and modifications of the ocean surface layer, while a related article authored by Daniel C. Reed (University of California, Santa Barbara) and his team analyzes the natural capacity of coastal ecosystems to resist and adapt to climate change.

Back on land, Amy R. Hudson (US Department of Agriculture) and her colleagues provide a comparative analysis of drylands’ responses to climate change, revealing consistent warming across sites but significant variability in droughts and their effect on primary production, while John L. Campbell (USDA Forest Service) and colleagues discuss how forest and freshwater ecosystems are both directly and indirectly impacted by climate change.

Finally, in a viewpoint article, Michael Paul Nelson (Oregon State University) reflects on environmental scientists’ duty to actively advocate for mobilization and change. “Our love and knowledge create a new kind of work for us in the face of the climate crisis. Beyond the work of revealing and explaining our ecosystems, we are called also to do the work of caretakers for those ecosystems,” he concludes.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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