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Updated 16 September 2008

A USGCRP Program Element



Changing Ecosystems


Recent Accomplishments

Near-Term Plans

Archived News Postings [June 2000 - July 2005]

Related Sites

Calls for Proposals

CCSP / USGCRP Ecosystems Working Group Members

For long term plans, see Ecosystems chapter of the Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program (2003) posted on CCSP web site

EcosystemThis research element studies the potential effects of global change on goods and services provided by aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, using observations, experiments, modeling, and syntheses to focus on critical emerging questions. Newly initiated projects in terrestrial ecosystems are addressing cause-and-effect relationships between climatic variability and change and the distribution, abundance, and productivity of native and invasive organisms. Research is continuing into understanding how increasing CO2 levels affect plants and microorganisms. Research in a Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is generating data to evaluate and forecast effects of warming, changes in fishing pressure, and eutrophication on economically important estuarine ecosystems. In the ocean, coral reef research is helping scientists and managers identify climatic and non-climatic stressors and thereby better manage these important ecosystems.


Strategic Research Questions

8.1.  What are the most important feedbacks between ecological systems and global change (especially climate), and what are their quantitative relationships?

8.2  What are the potential consequences of global change for ecological systems?

8.3.   What are the options for sustaining and improving ecological systems and related goods and services, given projected global changes?

See Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Chapter 8, for detailed discussion of these research questions.

The terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that make up the biosphere provide vital goods and services to humanity, including food, fiber, fuel, genetic resources, pharmaceuticals, cycling and purification of water and air, regulation of weather and climate, recreation, and natural beauty. Recent and ongoing global environmental changes—including climatic change, changes in atmospheric composition, land-use change, habitat fragmentation, pollution, and the spread of invasive species—are affecting the structure, composition, and functioning of many ecosystems, and therefore the goods and services that they provide. In turn, many ecological effects of global environmental change have potential to affect atmospheric composition, weather, and climate through both negative and positive feedback mechanisms. Because many global environmental changes are expected to increase in magnitude in the coming decades, the potential exists for increased effects of climate change on ecosystems and the goods and services that they provide (see Figure 16). Improved understanding of potential effects of global change on ecosystems, as well as the feedbacks from ecosystems to global change processes, remains a CCSP priority.

Figure 16: Key Linkages between Climate and Ecosystems. Climate changes (i.e., changes in temperature, precipitation, CO2 concentration, wind, or solar or terrestrial radiation) can affect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by altering primary production processes, reproduction, health and mortality of organisms, and rates and pathways of decomposition, community dynamics and biogeography, and exchanges of mass and energy between ecosystems and the atmosphere. Climate changes also have the potential to affect the frequency and magnitude of various ecosystem disturbances (e.g., fire, disease, insect infestations, storm frequency, and land-use change). In turn, changes in ecosystem-atmosphere exchanges of radiation, heat, or greenhouse gases caused directly or indirectly by climate change have the potential to dampen or enhance the initial climatic change through negative or positive feedbacks. Ecosystem changes caused by climatic changes can also affect the many ecosystem goods and services on which society depends. Likewise, climate change effects on ecosystem goods and services may elicit human actions that in turn affect climate, ecosystem disturbance, and/or ecosystem structure and functioning. Temporal and spatial scales are implicit; temporal scales range from seconds to millennia and spatial scales range from local to global. Credit: CCSP Ecosystems Interagency Working Group.

In FY 2009, the CCSP Ecosystems Interagency Working Group (EIWG) will continue with its planning, implementation, and analysis of research programs to accomplish the CCSP Strategic Plan goals related to ecosystem research. One focus will be increased efforts to provide the scientific basis needed for improved forecasts of the effects of climatic change on the structure, composition, and functioning of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including the many goods and services that they provide. EIWG will also continue its FY 2007 and FY 2008 focus on the interplay between changing climate and the productivity and biodiversity of ecosystems, with an emphasis on improving understanding of ecological processes to accelerate model development and analysis. This research will include funding for two topics of particular urgency: (1) vulnerability of coastal ecosystems (both terrestrial and aquatic) to oceanic warming, sea-level rise, increased storm frequency or intensity, saltwater intrusion, and increased sedimentation and runoff; and (2) warming-induced changes in high-latitude and high-elevation ecosystems, including changes in primary production, species composition, the timing of water availability, and migration of the tree line and other ecotones. These topics require additional research on underlying ecological processes and responses and the development of models linking geophysical and ecological phenomena. Strategies for implementation include new in situ experimental research projects; observations of ecosystems at local, regional, and global scales; synthesis and analysis of diverse ecological data sets, including those from manipulative experiments; and ecological model development and evaluation.

sandy sunset

EIWG efforts contribute to all five CCSP goals, with an emphasis on Goal 4: to “understand the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed climate and related global changes.” EIWG activities directly address questions 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3 from the CCSP Strategic Plan. Synergies and interactions exist with all the other CCSP research elements (i.e., Atmospheric Composition, Climate Variability and Change, Global Carbon Cycle, Global Water Cycle, Land-Use and Land-Cover Change, and Human Contributions and Responses).

The agencies participating in the EIWG work collaboratively to plan and execute research described in the CCSP Strategic Plan. Many of the research accomplishments and plans described in this chapter are the outcome of multi-agency efforts. A number of these activities also involve collaborations between the agencies and non-Federal partners and cooperators. EIWG actively engages the larger scientific research community to obtain input to and feedback on its evolving research plans.


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