Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services

This report was developed as technical input for the 2014 National Climate Assessment*, to synthesize the scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists authored this impact assessment.

The report begins by defining biodiversity and explaining why biodiversity matters. The observed and projected climate impacts on biodiversity are detailed, with a focus on genes, species, and assemblages of species. Some of the observed impacts addressed include phenological shifts, shifts in species distributions, and shifts in biotic interactions. How climate will affect biodiversity in the coming century is detailed, as well as what types of species and ecosystems are most vulnerable and why. Here, the report identifies the response strategies to address the most harmful impacts of climate change on biodiversity, as well as the barriers to, and opportunities for, their implementation.

The report also examines how climate change is affecting entire ecosystems, including ecosystem function and structural elements - such as biomass, architecture, and heterogeneity. The evidence of the effects of recent climate change on ecosystems, future impacts, and the changes that may have the greatest likelihood and consequence for ecosystems - and society - are all described in scientific detail. Chapter 6, "Adaptation to impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services," presents the meaning of adaptation in context; reviews current adaptation measures at the federal, state and local levels; and provides scientifically based adaptation strategies.

There are a number of key findings highlighted in this assessment.  There is clear evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change.  Also, it is found that forests have responded to climate change, with faster growth in some humid areas and slower growth in some drier areas. Longer growing seasons and warmer winters are enhancing pest outbreaks, leading to tree mortality and to more severe and extensive fires. Furthermore, both lakes and oceans are experiencing warmer air temperatures and elevated organic inputs, leading to greater thermal stratification and lower water clarity, which can increase “dead zones,” harmful algal blooms, human and other parasites, and alter nutrient recycling and biological productivity.  Many more significant findings are presented throughout, with extensive detail, as well as suggestions for further observation and adaptation planning. 

*Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books - such as this report - underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Publication Date: December 18, 2012

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Michelle D. Staudinger
  • Nancy B. Grimm
  • Amanda Staudt
  • Shawn L. Carter
  • Stuart F. Chapin III
  • Peter Kareiva
  • Mary Ruckelshaus
  • Bruce A. Stein

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Resource Types:

  • Assessment

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