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      Extreme weather and climate events with ecological relevance: a review

      1 , 2

      Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

      The Royal Society

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          Abstract

          Robust evidence exists that certain extreme weather and climate events, especially daily temperature and precipitation extremes, have changed in regard to intensity and frequency over recent decades. These changes have been linked to human-induced climate change, while the degree to which climate change impacts an individual extreme climate event (ECE) is more difficult to quantify. Rapid progress in event attribution has recently been made through improved understanding of observed and simulated climate variability, methods for event attribution and advances in numerical modelling. Attribution for extreme temperature events is stronger compared with other event types, notably those related to the hydrological cycle. Recent advances in the understanding of ECEs, both in observations and their representation in state-of-the-art climate models, open new opportunities for assessing their effect on human and natural systems. Improved spatial resolution in global climate models and advances in statistical and dynamical downscaling now provide climatic information at appropriate spatial and temporal scales. Together with the continued development of Earth System Models that simulate biogeochemical cycles and interactions with the biosphere at increasing complexity, these make it possible to develop a mechanistic understanding of how ECEs affect biological processes, ecosystem functioning and adaptation capabilities. Limitations in the observational network, both for physical climate system parameters and even more so for long-term ecological monitoring, have hampered progress in understanding bio-physical interactions across a range of scales. New opportunities for assessing how ECEs modulate ecosystem structure and functioning arise from better scientific understanding of ECEs coupled with technological advances in observing systems and instrumentation.This article is part of the themed issue 'Behavioural, ecological and evolutionary responses to extreme climatic events'.

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          Most cited references 106

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          Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change

          Ecological changes in the phenology and distribution of plants and animals are occurring in all well-studied marine, freshwater, and terrestrial groups. These observed changes are heavily biased in the directions predicted from global warming and have been linked to local or regional climate change through correlations between climate and biological variation, field and laboratory experiments, and physiological research. Range-restricted species, particularly polar and mountaintop species, show severe range contractions and have been the first groups in which entire species have gone extinct due to recent climate change. Tropical coral reefs and amphibians have been most negatively affected. Predator-prey and plant-insect interactions have been disrupted when interacting species have responded differently to warming. Evolutionary adaptations to warmer conditions have occurred in the interiors of species' ranges, and resource use and dispersal have evolved rapidly at expanding range margins. Observed genetic shifts modulate local effects of climate change, but there is little evidence that they will mitigate negative effects at the species level.
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            Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change-type drought.

            Future drought is projected to occur under warmer temperature conditions as climate change progresses, referred to here as global-change-type drought, yet quantitative assessments of the triggers and potential extent of drought-induced vegetation die-off remain pivotal uncertainties in assessing climate-change impacts. Of particular concern is regional-scale mortality of overstory trees, which rapidly alters ecosystem type, associated ecosystem properties, and land surface conditions for decades. Here, we quantify regional-scale vegetation die-off across southwestern North American woodlands in 2002-2003 in response to drought and associated bark beetle infestations. At an intensively studied site within the region, we quantified that after 15 months of depleted soil water content, >90% of the dominant, overstory tree species (Pinus edulis, a piñon) died. The die-off was reflected in changes in a remotely sensed index of vegetation greenness (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), not only at the intensively studied site but also across the region, extending over 12,000 km2 or more; aerial and field surveys confirmed the general extent of the die-off. Notably, the recent drought was warmer than the previous subcontinental drought of the 1950s. The limited, available observations suggest that die-off from the recent drought was more extensive than that from the previous drought, extending into wetter sites within the tree species' distribution. Our results quantify a trigger leading to rapid, drought-induced die-off of overstory woody plants at subcontinental scale and highlight the potential for such die-off to be more severe and extensive for future global-change-type drought under warmer conditions.
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              The impacts of climate change in coastal marine systems.

              Anthropogenically induced global climate change has profound implications for marine ecosystems and the economic and social systems that depend upon them. The relationship between temperature and individual performance is reasonably well understood, and much climate-related research has focused on potential shifts in distribution and abundance driven directly by temperature. However, recent work has revealed that both abiotic changes and biological responses in the ocean will be substantially more complex. For example, changes in ocean chemistry may be more important than changes in temperature for the performance and survival of many organisms. Ocean circulation, which drives larval transport, will also change, with important consequences for population dynamics. Furthermore, climatic impacts on one or a few 'leverage species' may result in sweeping community-level changes. Finally, synergistic effects between climate and other anthropogenic variables, particularly fishing pressure, will likely exacerbate climate-induced changes. Efforts to manage and conserve living marine systems in the face of climate change will require improvements to the existing predictive framework. Key directions for future research include identifying key demographic transitions that influence population dynamics, predicting changes in the community-level impacts of ecologically dominant species, incorporating populations' ability to evolve (adapt), and understanding the scales over which climate will change and living systems will respond.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                0962-8436
                1471-2970
                May 08 2017
                June 19 2017
                May 08 2017
                June 19 2017
                : 372
                : 1723
                : 20160135
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
                [2 ]NCAR Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307-3000, USA
                Article
                10.1098/rstb.2016.0135
                5434087
                28483866
                © 2017

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