Abstracts on Global Climate Change

Dec 2006

Predicting woodrat (Neotoma) responses to anthropogenic warming from studies of the palaeomidden record

Smith, FA Betancourt, JL


Aim The influence of anthropogenic climate change on organisms is an area of great scientific concern. Increasingly there is recognition that abrupt climate transitions have occurred over the late Quaternary; studies of these shifts may yield insights into likely biotic responses to contemporary warming. Here, we review research undertaken over the past decade investigating the response of Neotoma (woodrats) body size and distribution to climate change over the late Quaternary (the last 40,000 years). By integrating information from woodrat palaeomiddens, historical museum specimens and field studies of modern populations, we identify potential evolutionary responses to climate change occurring over a variety of temporal and spatial scales. Specifically, we characterize climatic thresholds in the past that led to local species extirpation and/or range alterations rather than in situ adaptation, and apply them to anticipate potential biotic responses to anthropogenic climate change. Location Middens were collected at about 55 sites scattered across the western United States, ranging from about 34 to 46 degrees N and about 104 to 116 degrees W, respectively. Data for modern populations were drawn from studies conducted in Death Valley, California, Missoula, Montana and the Sevilleta LTER site in central New Mexico. Methods We analysed faecal pellets from midden series collected at numerous cave sites across the western United States. From these we estimated body mass using techniques validated in earlier studies. We compared body size fluctuations at different elevations in different regions and integrated these results with studies investigating temperature-body size tradeoffs in modern animals. We also quantify the rapidity of the size changes over the late Quaternary to estimate the evolutionary capacity of woodrats to deal with predicted rates of anthropogenic climate change over the next century. Results We find remarkable similarities across the geographical range to late Quaternary climate change. In the middle of the geographical range woodrats respond in accordance to Bergmann’s rule: colder climatic conditions select for larger body size and warmer conditions select for smaller body size. Patterns are more complicated at range boundaries, and local environmental conditions influence the observed response. In general, woodrat body size fluctuates with approximately the same amplitude and frequency as climate; there is a significant and positive correlation between woodrat body size and generalized climate proxies (such as ice core records). Woodrats have achieved evolutionary rates of change equal to or greater than those needed to adapt in situ to anthropogenic climate change. Main conclusions In situ body size evolution is a likely outcome of climate change, and such shifts are part of a normal spectrum of adaptation. Woodrats appear to be subject to ongoing body size selection in response to fluctuating environmental conditions. Allometric considerations suggest that these shifts in body size lead to substantial changes in the physiology, life history and ecology of woodrats, and on their direct and indirect interactions with other organisms in the ecosystem. Our work highlights the importance of a finely resolved and long-term record in understanding biotic responses to climatic shifts.

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Comparative risk assessment of the burden of disease from climate change

Campbell-Lendrum, D Woodruff, R


The World Health Organization has developed standardized comparative risk assessment methods for estimating aggregate disease burdens attributable to different risk factors. These have been applied to existing and new models for a range of climate-sensitive diseases in order to estimate the effect of global climate change on current disease burdens and likely proportional changes in the future. The comparative risk assessment approach has been used to assess the health consequences of climate change worldwide, to inform decisions on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and in a regional assessment of the Oceania region in the Pacific Ocean to provide more location-specific information relevant to local mitigation and adaptation decisions. The approach places climate change within the same criteria for epidemiologic assessment as other health risks and accounts for the size of the burden of climate-sensitive diseases rather than just proportional change, which highlights the importance of small proportional changes in diseases such as diarrhea and malnutrition that cause a large burden. These exercises help clarify important knowledge gaps such as a relatively poor understanding of the role of nonclimatic factors (socioeconomic and other) that may modify future climatic influences and a lack of empiric evidence and methods for quantifying more complex climate-health relationships, which consequently are often excluded from consideration. These exercises highlight the need for risk assessment frameworks that make the best use of traditional epidemiologic methods and that also fully consider the specific characteristics of climate change. These include the long-term and uncertain nature of the exposure and the effects on multiple physical and biotic systems that have the potential for diverse and widespread effects, including high-impact events.

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Growth and physiological responses of canola (Brassica napus) to three components of global climate change: temperature, carbon dioxide and drought

Qaderi, MM Kurepin, LV Reid, DM


Elevated CO2 appears to be a significant factor in global warming, which will likely lead to drought conditions in many areas. Few studies have considered the interactive effects of higher CO2, temperature and drought on plant growth and physiology. We grew canola (Brassica napus cv. 45H72) plants under lower (22/18 degrees C) and higher (28/24 degrees C) temperature regimes in controlled environment chambers at ambient (370 mu mol mol(-1)) and elevated (740 mu mol mol(-1)) CO2 levels. One half of the plants were watered to field capacity and the other half at wilting point. In three separate experiments, we determined growth, various physiological parameters and content of abscisic acid (ABA), indole-3-acetic acid and ethylene. Drought-stressed plants grown under higher temperature at ambient CO2 had decreased stem height and diameter, leaf number and area, dry matter, leaf area ratio, shoot/root weight ratio, net CO2 assimilation and chlorophyll fluorescence. However, these plants had increased specific leaf weight, leaf weight ratio and chlorophyll concentration. Elevated CO2 generally had the opposite effect, and partially reversed the inhibitory effects of higher temperature and drought on leaf dry weight accumulation. This study showed that higher temperature and drought inhibit many processes but elevated CO2 partially mitigate some adverse effects. As expected, drought stress increased ABA but higher temperature inhibited the ability of plants to produce ABA in response to drought.

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