Impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services: technical input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment

Cooperative Report to the 2013 National Climate Assessment
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Ecosystems, and the biodiversity and services they support, are intrinsically dependent on climate. During the twentieth century, climate change has had documented impacts on ecological systems, and impacts are expected to increase as climate change continues and perhaps even accelerates. This technical input to the National Climate Assessment synthesizes our scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting biodiversity, ecosystems, ecosystem services, and what strategies might be employed to decrease current and future risks. Building on past assessments of how climate change and other stressors are affecting ecosystems in the United States and around the world, we approach the subject from several different perspectives. First, we review the observed and projected impacts on biodiversity, with a focus on genes, species, and assemblages of species. Next, we examine how climate change is affecting ecosystem structural elements—such as biomass, architecture, and heterogeneity—and functions—specifically, as related to the fluxes of energy and matter. People experience climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems as changes in ecosystem services; people depend on ecosystems for resources that are harvested, their role in regulating the movement of materials and disturbances, and their recreational, cultural, and aesthetic value. Thus, we review newly emerging research to determine how human activities and a changing climate are likely to alter the delivery of these ecosystem services. This technical input also examines two cross-cutting topics. First, we recognize that climate change is happening against the backdrop of a wide range of other environmental and anthropogenic stressors, many of which have caused dramatic ecosystem degradation already. This broader range of stressors interacts with climate change, and complicates our abilities to predict and manage the impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems, and the services they support. The second cross-cutting topic is the rapidly advancing field of climate adaptation, where there has been significant progress in developing the conceptual framework, planning approaches, and strategies for safeguarding biodiversity and other ecological resources. At the same time, ecosystem-based adaptation is becoming more prominent as a way to utilize ecosystem services to help human systems adapt to climate change. In this summary, we present key findings of the technical input, focusing on themes that can be found throughout the report. Thus, this summary takes a more integrated look at the question of how climate change is affecting our ecological resources, the implications for humans, and possible response strategies. This integrated approach better reflects the impacts of climate in the real world, where changes in ecosystem structure or function will alter the viability of different species and the efficacy of ecosystem services. Likewise, adaptation to climate change will simultaneously address a range of conservation goals. Case studies are used to illustrate this complete picture throughout the report; a snapshot of one case study, 2011 Las Conchas, New Mexico Fire, is included in this summary.

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Federal Government Series
Impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services: technical input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment
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United States Global Change Research Program
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center
x, S-5, 1-4, 2-62, 3-58, 4-41, 5-36, 6-41, 7-6, A-8 p.; col. ill.; maps (col.)
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