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Ecosystem Responses to Global Climate Change: Moving Beyond Color Mapping

This peer-reviewed article from BioScience is on the effects of climate change on ecosystems. Current assessments of climate-change effects on ecosystems use two key approaches: (1) empirical synthesis and modeling of species range shifts and life-cycle processes that coincide with recent evidence of climate warming, from which scenarios of ecosystem change are inferred; and (2) experiments examining plant-soil interactions under simulated climate warming. Both kinds of assessment offer indisputable evidence that climate change and its effects on ecosystems are ongoing. However, both approaches often provide conservative estimates of the effects of climate change on ecosystems, because they do not consider the interplay and feedback among higher trophic levels in ecosystems, which may have a large effect on plant species composition and on ecosystem services such as productivity. Understanding the impacts of these top-down processes on ecosystems is critical for determining large-scale ecosystem response to climate change. Using examples of links between climate forcing, trophic interactions, and changes in ecosystem state in selected terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems, we show that the ability to understand and accurately forecast future effects of climate change requires an integrated perspective, linking climate and the biotic components of the ecosystem as a whole.

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