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Zheng, H. Climate Change and Ecosystems. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 08 December 2023).
Zheng H. Climate Change and Ecosystems. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 08, 2023.
Zheng, Handwiki. "Climate Change and Ecosystems" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 08, 2023).
Zheng, H.(2022, November 04). Climate Change and Ecosystems. In Encyclopedia.
Zheng, Handwiki. "Climate Change and Ecosystems." Encyclopedia. Web. 04 November, 2022.
Climate Change and Ecosystems

Climate change has adversely affected both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and is expected to further affect many ecosystems, including tundra, mangroves, coral reefs, and caves. Increasing global temperature, more frequent occurrence of extreme weather, and rising sea level are among some of the effects of climate change that will have the most significant impact. Some of the possible consequences of these effects include species decline and extinction, behavior change within ecosystems, increased prevalence of invasive species, a shift from forests being carbon sinks to carbon sources, ocean acidification, disruption of the water cycle, and increased occurrence of natural disasters, among others.

climate change climate rising sea level

1. General

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (2021) projects progressively large increases in both the frequency (horizontal bars) and intensity (vertical bars) of extreme weather events, for increasing degrees of global warming.[1]

Climate change is affecting terrestrial ecoregions. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems are changing; some species are being forced out of their habitats (possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others are flourishing.[2] Other effects of global warming include lessened snow cover, rising sea levels, and weather changes, may influence human activities and the ecosystem.[2]

Within the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, experts assessed the literature on the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Rosenzweig et al. (2007) concluded that over the last three decades, human-induced warming had likely had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems (p. 81).[3] Schneider et al. (2007) concluded, with very high confidence, that regional temperature trends had already affected species and ecosystems around the world (p. 792).[4] They also concluded that climate change would result in the extinction of many species and a reduction in the diversity of ecosystems (p. 792).

  • Terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity: With a warming of 3 °C, relative to 1990 levels, it is likely that global terrestrial vegetation would become a net source of carbon (Schneider et al., 2007:792). With high confidence, Schneider et al. (2007:788) concluded that a global mean temperature increase of around 4 °C (above the 1990-2000 level) by 2100 would lead to major extinctions around the globe.
  • Marine ecosystems and biodiversity: With very high confidence, Schneider et al. (2007:792) concluded that a warming of 2 °C above 1990 levels would result in mass mortality of coral reefs globally. In addition, several studies dealing with planktonic organisms and modelling have shown that temperature plays a transcendental role in marine microbial food webs, which may have a deep influence on the biological carbon pump of marine planktonic pelagic and mesopelagic ecosystems.[5][6][7]
  • Freshwater ecosystems: Above about a 4 °C increase in global mean temperature by 2100 (relative to 1990–2000), Schneider et al. (2007:789) concluded, with high confidence, that many freshwater species would become extinct.

2. Biodiversity

2.1. Extinction

Studying the association between Earth climate and extinctions over the past 520 million years, scientists from the University of York write, "The global temperatures predicted for the coming centuries may trigger a new ‘mass extinction event’, where over 50 percent of animal and plant species would be wiped out."[8]

Many of the species at risk are Arctic and Antarctic fauna such as polar bears[9] and emperor penguins.[10] In the Arctic, the waters of Hudson Bay are ice-free for three weeks longer than they were thirty years ago, affecting polar bears, which prefer to hunt on sea ice.[11] Species that rely on cold weather conditions such as gyrfalcons, and snowy owls that prey on lemmings that use the cold winter to their advantage may be negatively affected.[12][13] Marine invertebrates achieve peak growth at the temperatures they have adapted to, and cold-blooded animals found at high latitudes and altitudes generally grow faster to compensate for the short growing season.[14] Warmer-than-ideal conditions result in higher metabolism and consequent reductions in body size despite increased foraging, which in turn elevates the risk of predation. Indeed, even a slight increase in temperature during development impairs growth efficiency and survival rate in rainbow trout.[15]

Mechanistic studies have documented extinctions due to recent climate change: McLaughlin et al. documented two populations of Bay checkerspot butterfly being threatened by precipitation change.[16] Parmesan states, "Few studies have been conducted at a scale that encompasses an entire species"[17] and McLaughlin et al. agreed "few mechanistic studies have linked extinctions to recent climate change."[16] Daniel Botkin and other authors in one study believe that projected rates of extinction are overestimated.[18] For "recent" extinctions, see Holocene extinction.

Many species of freshwater and saltwater plants and animals are dependent on glacier-fed waters to ensure a cold water habitat that they have adapted to. Some species of freshwater fish need cold water to survive and to reproduce, and this is especially true with salmon and cutthroat trout. Reduced glacier runoff can lead to insufficient stream flow to allow these species to thrive. Ocean krill, a cornerstone species, prefer cold water and are the primary food source for aquatic mammals such as the blue whale.[19] Alterations to the ocean currents, due to increased freshwater inputs from glacier melt, and the potential alterations to thermohaline circulation of the worlds oceans, may affect existing fisheries upon which humans depend as well.

The white lemuroid possum, only found in the Daintree mountain forests of northern Queensland, may be the first mammal species to be driven extinct by global warming in Australia. In 2008, the white possum has not been seen in over three years. The possums cannot survive extended temperatures over 30 °C (86 °F), which occurred in 2005.[20]

A 27-year study of the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world, published in 2014, found that extreme weather caused by climate change is responsible for killing 7% of penguin chicks per year on average, and in some years studied climate change accounted for up to 50% of all chick deaths.[21][22] Since 1987, the number of breeding pairs in the colony has reduced by 24%.[22]

Furthermore, climate change may disrupt ecological partnerships among interacting species, via changes on behaviour and phenology, or via climate niche mismatch.[23] The disruption of species-species associations is a potential consequence of climate-driven movements of each individual species towards opposite directions.[24] Climate change may, thus, lead to another extinction, more silent and mostly overlooked: the extinction of species' interactions. As a consequence of the spatial decoupling of species-species associations, ecosystem services derived from biotic interactions are also at risk from climate niche mismatch.[23]

2.2. Behaviour Change

Rising temperatures are beginning to have a noticeable impact on birds,[25] and butterflies have shifted their ranges northward by 200 km in Europe and North America. The migration range of larger animals may be constrained by human development.[26] In Britain, spring butterflies are appearing an average of 6 days earlier than two decades ago.[27]

A 2002 article in Nature[28] surveyed the scientific literature to find recent changes in range or seasonal behaviour by plant and animal species. Of species showing recent change, 4 out of 5 shifted their ranges towards the poles or higher altitudes, creating "refugee species". Frogs were breeding, flowers blossoming and birds migrating an average 2.3 days earlier each decade; butterflies, birds and plants moving towards the poles by 6.1 km per decade. A 2005 study concludes human activity is the cause of the temperature rise and resultant changing species behaviour, and links these effects with the predictions of climate models to provide validation for them.[29] Scientists have observed that Antarctic hair grass is colonizing areas of Antarctica where previously their survival range was limited.[30]

Climate change is leading to a mismatch between the snow camouflage of arctic animals such as snowshoe hares with the increasingly snow-free landscape.[31]

3. Forests

Change in Photosynthetic Activity in Northern Forests 1982–2003; NASA Earth Observatory.

As the northern forests are a carbon sink, while dead forests are a major carbon source, the loss of such large areas of forest has a positive feedback on global warming. In the worst years, the carbon emission due to beetle infestation of forests in British Columbia alone approaches that of an average year of forest fires in all of Canada or five years worth of emissions from that country's transportation sources.[32][33]

Research suggests that slow-growing trees only are stimulated in growth for a short period under higher CO2 levels, while faster growing plants like liana benefit in the long term. In general, but especially in rainforests, this means that liana become the prevalent species; and because they decompose much faster than trees their carbon content is more quickly returned to the atmosphere. Slow growing trees incorporate atmospheric carbon for decades.[34]

3.1. Wildfires

Healthy and unhealthy forests appear to face an increased risk of forest fires because of the warming climate.[35][36] The 10-year average of boreal forest burned in North America, after several decades of around 10,000 km2 (2.5 million acres), has increased steadily since 1970 to more than 28,000 km2 (7 million acres) annually.[37] Though this change may be due in part to changes in forest management practices, in the western U.S., since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986. A similar increase in wildfire activity has been reported in Canada from 1920 to 1999.[38]

Forest fires in Indonesia have dramatically increased since 1997 as well. These fires are often actively started to clear forest for agriculture. They can set fire to the large peat bogs in the region and the CO₂released by these peat bog fires has been estimated, in an average year, to be 15% of the quantity of CO₂produced by fossil fuel combustion.[39][40]

A 2018 study found that trees grow faster due to increased carbon dioxide levels, however, the trees are also eight to twelve percent lighter and denser since 1900. The authors note, "Even though a greater volume of wood is being produced today, it now contains less material than just a few decades ago."[41]

In 2019 unusually hot and dry weather in parts of the northern hemisphere caused massive wildfires, from the Mediterranean to – in particular – the Arctic. Climate change, by rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation patterns, is amplifying the risk of wildfires and prolonging their season. The northern part of the world is warming faster than the planet on average. The average June temperature in the parts of Siberia, where wildfires are raging, was almost ten degrees higher than the 1981–2010 average. Temperatures in Alaska reach record highs of up to 90 °F (32 °C) on 4 July, fuelling fires in the state, including along the Arctic Circle.

In addition to the direct threat from burning, wildfires cause air pollution, that can be carried over long distances, affecting air quality in far away regions. Wildfires also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. For example, the 2014 megafires in Canada burned more than 7 million acres of forest, releasing more than 103 million tonnes of carbon – half as much as all the plants in Canada typically absorb in an entire year. File:Gavin Newsom talks about climate change at North Complex Fire - 2020-09-11.ogv Wildfires are common in the northern hemisphere between May and October, but the latitude, intensity, and the length of the fires, were particularly unusual. In June 2019, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has tracked over 100 intense and long-lived wildfires in the Arctic. In June alone, they emitted 50 megatones of carbon dioxide - equivalent to Sweden's annual GHG emissions. This is more than was released by Arctic fires in the same month in the years 2010 - 2018 combined. The fires have been most severe in Alaska and Siberia, where some cover territory equal to almost 100 000 football pitches. In Alberta, one fire was bigger than 300 000 pitches. In Alaska alone, CAMS has registered almost 400 wildfires this year, with new ones igniting every day. In Canada, smoke from massive wildfires near Ontario are producing large amounts of air pollution. The heat wave in Europe also caused wildfires in a number of countries, including Germany, Greece and Spain. The heat is drying forests and making them more susceptible to wildfires. Boreal forests are now burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.

The Arctic region, is particularly sensitive and warming faster than most other regions. Particles of smoke can land on snow and ice, causing them to absorb sunlight that it would otherwise reflect, accelerating the warming. Fires in the Arctic also increase the risk of permafrost thawing that releases methane - strong greenhouse gas. Improving forecasting systems is important to solve the problem. In view of the risks, WMO has created a Vegetation Fire and Smoke Pollution Warning and Advisory System for forecasting fires and related impacts and hazards across the globe. WMO's Global Atmosphere Watch Programme has released a short video about the issue.[42]

3.2. Invasive Species

An invasive species is any kind of living organism that is not native to an ecosystem that adversely affects it.[43] These negative effects can include the extinction of native plants or animals, biodiversity destruction, and permanent habitat alteration.[44]

Pine forests in British Columbia have been devastated by a pine beetle infestation, which has expanded unhindered since 1998 at least in part due to the lack of severe winters since that time; a few days of extreme cold kill most mountain pine beetles and have kept outbreaks in the past naturally contained. The infestation, which (by November 2008) has killed about half of the province's lodgepole pines (33 million acres or 135,000 km2)[45][46] is an order of magnitude larger than any previously recorded outbreak.[32] One reason for unprecedented host tree mortality may be due to that the mountain pine beetles have higher reproductive success in lodgepole pine trees growing in areas where the trees have not experienced frequent beetle epidemics, which includes much of the current outbreak area.[47] In 2007 the outbreak spread, via unusually strong winds, over the continental divide to Alberta. An epidemic also started, be it at a lower rate, in 1999 in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The United States forest service predicts that between 2011 and 2013 virtually all 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of Colorado's lodgepole pine trees over five inches (127 mm) in diameter will be lost.[46]

3.3. Taiga

Climate change is having a disproportionate impact on boreal forests, which are warming at a faster rate than the global average.[48] leading to drier conditions in the Taiga, which leads to a whole host of subsequent issues.[49] Climate change has a direct impact on the productivity of the boreal forest, as well as health and regeneration.[49] As a result of the rapidly changing climate, trees are migrating to higher latitudes and altitudes (northward), but some species may not be migrating fast enough to follow their climatic habitat.[50][51][52] Moreover, trees within the southern limit of their range may begin to show declines in growth.[53] Drier conditions are also leading to a shift from conifers to aspen in more fire and drought-prone areas.[49]

Assisted migration

Assisted migration, the act of moving plants or animals to a different habitat, has been proposed as a solution to the above problem. For species that may not be able to disperse easily, have long generation times or have small populations, this form of adaptative management and human intervention may help them survive in this rapidly changing climate.[54]

The assisted migration of North American forests has been discussed and debated by the science community for decades. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia finally acted and modified their tree reseeding guidelines to account for the northward movement of forest's optimal ranges.[55] British Columbia even gave the green light for the relocation of a single species, the western larch, 1000 km northward.[56]

3.4. Mountain Pine Beetle, Forest Ecosystems and Forest Fires

Adult mountain pine beetle.

Climate change and the associated changing weather patterns occurring worldwide have a direct effect on biology, population ecology, and the population of eruptive insects, such as the mountain pine beetle (MPB). This is because temperature is a factor which determines insect development and population success.[57] Mountain Pine Beetle are a species native to Western North America.[58] Prior to climatic and temperature changes, the mountain pine beetle predominately lived and attacked lodgepole and ponderosa pine trees at lower elevations, as the higher elevation Rocky Mountains and Cascades were too cold for their survival.[59] Under normal seasonal freezing weather conditions in the lower elevations, the forest ecosystems that pine beetles inhabit are kept in a balance by factors such as tree defense mechanisms, beetle defense mechanisms, and freezing temperatures. It is a simple relationship between a host (the forest), an agent (the beetle) and the environment (the weather & temperature).[58] However, as climate change causes mountain areas to become warmer and drier, pine beetles have more power to infest and destroy the forest ecosystems, such as the whitebark pine forests of the Rockies.[58] This is a forest so important to forest ecosystems that it is called the “rooftop of the rockies”. Climate change has led to a threatening pine beetle pandemic, causing them to spread far beyond their native habitat. This leads to ecosystem changes, forest fires, floods and hazards to human health.[58]

The whitebark pine ecosystem in these high elevations plays many essential roles, providing support to plant and animal life.[58] They provide food for grizzly bears and squirrels, as well as shelter and breeding grounds for elk and deer; protects watersheds by sending water to parched foothills and plains; serves as a reservoir by dispensing supplies of water from melted snowpacks that are trapped beneath the shaded areas; and creates new soil which allows for growth of other trees and plant species.[58] Without these pines, animals do not have adequate food, water, or shelter, and the reproductive life cycle, as well as quality of life, is affected as a consequence.[58] Normally, the pine beetle cannot survive in these frigid temperatures and high elevation of the Rocky Mountains.[58] However, warmer temperatures means that the pine beetle can now survive and attack these forests, as it no longer is cold enough to freeze and kill the beetle at such elevations.[58] Increased temperatures also allow the pine beetle to increase their life cycle by 100%: it only takes a single year instead of two for the pine beetle to develop. As the Rockies have not adapted to deal with pine beetle infestations, they lack the defenses to fight the beetles.[58] Warmer weather patterns, drought, and beetle defense mechanisms together dries out sap in pine trees, which is the main mechanism of defense that trees have against the beetle, as it drowns the beetles and their eggs.[58] This makes it easier for the beetle to infest and release chemicals into the tree, luring other beetles in an attempt to overcome the weakened defense system of the pine tree. As a consequence, the host (forest) becomes more vulnerable to the disease-causing agent (the beetle).[58]

The whitebark forests of the Rockies are not the only forests that have been affected by the mountain pine beetle. Due to temperature changes and wind patterns, the pine beetle has now spread through the Continental Divide of the Rockies and has invaded the fragile boreal forests of Alberta, known as the “lungs of the Earth”.[58] These forests are imperative for producing oxygen through photosynthesis and removing carbon in the atmosphere. But as the forests become infested and die, carbon dioxide is released into the environment, and contributes even more to a warming climate. Ecosystems and humans rely on the supply of oxygen in the environment, and threats to this boreal forest results in severe consequences to our planet and human health.[58] In a forest ravaged by pine beetle, the dead logs and kindle which can easily be ignited by lightning. Forest fires present dangers to the environment, human health and the economy.[58] They are detrimental to air quality and vegetation, releasing toxic and carcinogenic compounds as they burn.[58] Due to human induced deforestation and climate change, along with the pine beetle pandemic, the strength of forest ecosystems decrease. The infestations and resulting diseases can indirectly, but seriously, effect human health. As droughts and temperature increases continue, so does the frequency of devastating forest fires, insect infestations, forest diebacks, acid rain, habitat loss, animal endangerment and threats to safe drinking water.[58]

4. Mountains

Mountains cover approximately 25 percent of earth's surface and provide a home to more than one-tenth of global human population. Changes in global climate pose a number of potential risks to mountain habitats.[60] Researchers expect that over time, climate change will affect mountain and lowland ecosystems, the frequency and intensity of forest fires, the diversity of wildlife, and the distribution of fresh water.

Studies suggest a warmer climate would cause lower-elevation habitats to expand into the higher alpine zone.[61] Such a shift would encroach on rare alpine meadows and other high-altitude habitats. High-elevation plants and animals have limited space available for new habitat as they move higher on the mountains in order to adapt to long-term changes in regional climate. Such uphill shifts of both ranges and abundances have been recorded for various groups of species across the world.[62]

Changes in climate are melting glaciers and reducing the depth of the mountain snowpacks. Any changes in their seasonal melting can have powerful impacts on areas that rely on freshwater runoff from mountains. Rising temperature may cause snow to melt earlier and faster in the spring and shift the timing and distribution of runoff. These changes could affect the availability of freshwater for natural systems and human uses.[63]

5. Oceans

5.1. Ocean Acidification

Estimated annual mean sea surface anthropogenic dissolved inorganic carbon concentration for the present day (normalised to year 2002) from the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project v2 (GLODAPv2) climatology.
Annual mean sea surface dissolved oxygen from the World Ocean Atlas 2009. Dissolved oxygen here is in mol O2m−3.

Ocean acidification poses a severe threat to the earth's natural process of regulating atmospheric CO2 levels.[64] Atmospheric CO2 emissions have increased by almost 50% from preindustrial levels of 280 ppm (part per million) to nearly 420 ppm today. Due to high proportion of Earth that oceans represent and the buffering capacity of seawater for CO2, ocean absorbs up to 25% of atmospheric carbon dioxide, lessening the effects of climate change.[64] Oceanic uptake of CO2 decreases with increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations as the buffering capacity becomes reduced.[65][66] As atmospheric CO2 is mixed in with seawater it forms carbonic acid, which then dissociates into free hydrogen ions (H+), bicarbonate (HCO3), and carbonate ions (CO32-). As H+ ions increase the oceans pH decreases, resulting in changes in ph by up to 0.1 per 100 ppm of atmospheric CO2.[64] Following gas exchange with the atmosphere, CO2 becomes aqueous and mixes in with the surface layers of the ocean as dissolve inorganic carbon (DIC) before being transported by ocean currents to deeper waters. Ocean pH has already decreased from 8.2 to 8.1 since preindustrial levels and is expected to continue decreasing with time.[67] The increase of ocean acidity also decelerates the rate of calcification in salt water, leading to smaller and slower growing reefs which supports approximately 25% of marine life.[64][68] Impacts are far-reaching from fisheries and coastal environments down to the deepest depths of the ocean.[69] As seen with the great barrier reef, the increase in ocean acidity in not only killing the coral, but also the wildly diverse population of marine inhabitants which coral reefs support.[70]

5.2. Dissolved Oxygen

Another issue faced by increasing global temperatures is the decrease of the ocean's ability to dissolve oxygen, one with potentially more severe consequences than other repercussions of global warming.[71] Ocean depths between 100 meters and 1,000 meters are known as "oceanic mid zones" and host a plethora of biologically diverse species, one of which being zooplankton.[72] Zooplankton feed on smaller organisms such as phytoplankton, which are an integral part of the marine food web.[73] Phytoplankton perform photosynthesis, receiving energy from light, and provide sustenance and energy for the larger zooplankton, which provide sustenance and energy for the even larger fish, and so on up the food chain.[73] The increase in oceanic temperatures lowers the ocean's ability to retain oxygen generated from phytoplankton, and therefore reduces the amount of bioavailable oxygen that fish and other various marine wildlife rely on for their survival.[72] This creates marine dead zones, and the phenomenon has already generated multiple marine dead zones around the world, as marine currents effectively "trap" the deoxygenated water.

5.3. Impacts on Calcifying Organisms

Marine calcifying organisms use CO32- ions to form their shells and reefs. As ocean acidification continues, calcium carbonate (CaCO3) saturation states, a measure of CO32- in seawater are lowered, inhibiting calcifying organisms from building their shells and structures.[74] Increased anthropogenic CO2 invasion into the ocean results in fewer carbonate ions for shell and reef-forming organisms due to an increase in H+ ions, resulting in fewer and smaller calcifying organisms.[75]

5.4. Coral Bleaching

Bleached Staghorn coral in the Great Barrier Reef.

The warming ocean surface waters can lead to bleaching of the corals which can cause serious damage and/or coral death. Coral bleaching occurs when thermal stress from a warming ocean results in the expulsion of the symbiotic algae that resides within coral tissues and is the reason for the bright, vibrant colors of coral reefs.[70] A 1-2 degree C sustained increase in seawater temperatures is sufficient for bleaching to occur, which turns corals white.[76] If a coral is bleached for a prolonged period of time, death may result. In the Great Barrier Reef, before 1998 there were no such events. The first event happened in 1998 and after it they begun to occur more and more frequently so in the years 2016 - 2020 there were 3 of them.[77] A 2017 report, the first global scientific assessment of climate change impacts on World Heritage coral reefs, published by UNESCO, estimates that the coral reefs in all 29 reef-containing sites would exhibit a loss of ecosystem functioning and services by the end of the century if CO2 emissions are not curbed significantly.

5.5. Algal Blooms

Climate change and a warming ocean can increase the frequency and the magnitude of algal blooms. There is evidence that harmful algal blooms have increased in recent decades, resulting in impacts ranging from public health, tourism, aquaculture, fisheries, to ecosystems.[78] Such events may result in changes in temperature, stratification, light, ocean acidification, increased nutrients, and grazing.[79] As climate change continues, harmful algal blooms, known as HABs, will likely exhibit spatial and temporal shifts under future conditions.[79] Spatially, algal species may experience range expansion, contraction, or latitudinal shifts.[79] Temporally, the seasonal windows of growth may expand or shorten.[79] In 2019, the biggest Sargassum bloom ever seen created a crisis in the Tourism industry in North America. This event was likely caused by climate change and nutrient pollution from fertilizers.[80] Several Caribbean countries considered declaring a state of emergency due to the impact on tourism as a result of environmental damage and potentially toxic and harmful health effects.[81] While algal blooms can benefit marine life, they can also block the sunlight and produce toxic effects on marine wildlife and humans.[82]

5.6. Impacts on Phytoplankton

Satellite measurement and chlorophyll observations indicate a decline in the number of phytoplankton, microorganisms that produce half of the earth's oxygen, absorb half of the world carbon dioxide and serve foundation of the entire marine food chain.[83] Phytoplankton are vital to Earth systems and critical for global ecosystem functioning and services, and vary with environmental parameters such as, temperature, water column mixing, nutrients, sunlight, and consumption by grazers.[84][85] Climate change results in fluctuations and modification of these parameters, which in turn may impact phytoplankton community composition, structure, and annual and seasonal dynamics.[85] Recent research and models have predicted a decline in phytoplankton productivity in response to warming ocean waters resulting in increased stratification where there is less vertical mixing in the water column to cycle nutrients from the deep ocean to surface waters.[86][87] Studies over the past decade confirm this prediction with data showing a slight decline in global phytoplankton productivity, particularly due to the expansion of "ocean deserts," such as subtropical ocean gyres with low-nutrient availability, as a result of rising seawater temperatures.[88]

Phytoplankton are critical to the carbon cycle as they consume CO2 via photosynthesis on similar scale to forests and terrestrial plants. As phytoplankton die and sink, carbon is then transported to deeper layers of the ocean where it is then eaten by consumers, and this cycle continues. The biological carbon pump is responsible for approximately 10 gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere to the deep ocean every year.[89] Fluctuations in phytoplankton in growth, abundance, or composition would greatly affect this system, as well as global climate.[89]

5.7. Combined Impacts

In the next century it is predicted that 83% of ocean's surface temperature will rise. The models that represent this change and the impact that these temperature changes will have vary widely.[90] Eventually, the planet could warm to such a degree that the ocean's ability to dissolve oxygen would no longer exist, resulting in a worldwide dead zone.[72] Dead zones, in combination with ocean acidification, may usher in an era where marine life in most forms would cease to exist, resulting in a sharp decline in the amount of oxygen generated through photosynthesis in surface waters.[72] This disruption to the food chain will cascade upward, thinning out populations of primary consumers, secondary consumers, tertiary consumers, etc., with primary consumers being the initial victims of these phenomena. Anthropogenic alteration of seawater chemistry will likely affect aquaculture, fisheries, shorelines, water quality, biodiversity, and economically valuable marine ecosystems.[69] In addition to ecological consequences, these impacts will result in vulnerabilities and risks to human populations dependent on the ocean and ecosystem services.[69] Long-term perturbations in the marine system and related impacts are yet to be fully understood.[69] However, it is clear that the solution to climate change impacts on the ocean involves global-scale reduction in CO2 emissions, as well as regional and local mitigation and management strategies moving forward.[69]

6. Fresh Water

6.1. Disruption to Water Cycle

The water cycle.

Fresh water covers only 0.8% of the Earth's surface, but contains up to 6% of all life on the planet.[91] However, the impacts climate change deal to its ecosystems are often overlooked. Very few studies showcase the potential results of climate change on large-scale ecosystems which are reliant on freshwater, such as river ecosystems, lake ecosystems, desert ecosystems, etc. However, a comprehensive study published in 2009 delves into the effects to be felt by lotic (flowing) and lentic (still) freshwater ecosystems in the American Northeast. According to the study, persistent rainfall, typically felt year round, will begin to diminish and rates of evaporation will increase, resulting in drier summers and more sporadic periods of precipitation throughout the year.[92] Additionally, a decrease in snowfall is expected, which leads to less runoff in the spring when snow thaws and enters the watershed, resulting in lower-flowing fresh water rivers.[92] This decrease in snowfall also leads to increased runoff during winter months, as rainfall cannot permeate the frozen ground usually covered by water-absorbing snow.[92] These effects on the water cycle will wreak havoc for indigenous species residing in fresh water lakes and streams.

6.2. Salt Water Contamination and Cool Water Species

Eagle River in central Alaska, home to various indigenous freshwater species.

Species of fish living in cold or cool water can see a reduction in population of up to 50% in the majority of U.S. fresh water streams, according to most climate change models.[93] The increase in metabolic demands due to higher water temperatures, in combination with decreasing amounts of food will be the main contributors to their decline.[93] Additionally, many fish species (such as salmon) utilize seasonal water levels of streams as a means of reproducing, typically breeding when water flow is high and migrating to the ocean after spawning.[93] Because snowfall is expected to be reduced due to climate change, water runoff is expected to decrease which leads to lower flowing streams, effecting the spawning of millions of salmon.[93] To add to this, rising seas will begin to flood coastal river systems, converting them from fresh water habitats to saline environments where indigenous species will likely perish. In southeast Alaska, the sea rises by 3.96 cm/year, redepositing sediment in various river channels and bringing salt water inland.[93] This rise in sea level not only contaminates streams and rivers with saline water, but also the reservoirs they are connected to, where species such as Sockeye Salmon live. Although this species of Salmon can survive in both salt and fresh water, the loss of a body of fresh water stops them from reproducing in the spring, as the spawning process requires fresh water.[93] Undoubtedly, the loss of fresh water systems of lakes and rivers in Alaska will result in the imminent demise of the state's once-abundant population of salmon.

6.3. Droughts

Droughts have been occurring more frequently and more intense because of global warming and they are expected to become more frequent and intense in Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, most of the Americas, Australia, and Southeast Asia.[94] There are different types of drought being studied, such as meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic droughts.[95] Their impacts are aggravated because of increased water demand, population growth, urban expansion, and environmental protection efforts in many areas.[96] Droughts result in crop failures and the loss of pasture grazing land for livestock.[97]

Droughts are becoming more frequent and intense in arid and semiarid western North America as temperatures have been rising, advancing the timing and magnitude of spring snow melt floods and reducing river flow volume in summer. Direct effects of climate change include increased heat and water stress, altered crop phenology, and disrupted symbiotic interactions. These effects may be exacerbated by climate changes in river flow, and the combined effects are likely to reduce the abundance of native trees in favor of non-native herbaceous and drought-tolerant competitors, reduce the habitat quality for many native animals, and slow litter decomposition and nutrient cycling. Climate change effects on human water demand and irrigation may intensify these effects.[98]

6.4. Combined Impact

In general, as the planet warms, the amount of fresh water bodies across the planet decreases, as evaporation rates increase, rain patterns become more sporadic, and watershed patterns become fragmented, resulting in less cyclical water flow in river and stream systems. This disruption to fresh water cycles disrupts the feeding, mating, and migration patterns of organisms reliant on fresh water ecosystems. Additionally, the encroachment of saline water into fresh water river systems endangers indigenous species which can only survive in fresh water.

7. Species Migration

In 2010, a gray whale was found in the Mediterranean Sea, even though the species had not been seen in the North Atlantic Ocean since the 18th century. The whale is thought to have migrated from the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic. Climate Change & European Marine Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) has also reported that the Neodenticula seminae alga has been found in the North Atlantic, where it had gone extinct nearly 800,000 years ago. The alga has drifted from the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic, following the reduction in polar ice.[99]

In the Artic, the prevalent rise of CO2 and temperatures[100] are changing the tundra plants and other xerophytic shrub composition in the ecosystem. For example, in the Siberian subarctic, species migration is contributing to another warming albedo-feedback, as needle-shedding larch trees are being replaced with dark-foliage evergreen conifers which can absorb some of the solar radiation that previously reflected off the snowpack beneath the forest canopy.[101][102] It has been projected many fish species will migrate towards the North and South poles as a result of climate change, and that many species of fish near the Equator will go extinct as a result of global warming.[103]

Migratory birds are especially at risk for endangerment due to the extreme dependability on temperature and air pressure for migration, foraging, growth, and reproduction. Much research has been done on the effects of climate change on birds, both for future predictions and for conservation. The species said to be most at risk for endangerment or extinction are populations that are not of conservation concern.[104] It is predicted that a 3.5 degree increase in surface temperature will occur by year 2100, which could result in between 600 and 900 extinctions, which mainly will occur in the tropical environments.[105]

8. Species Adaptation

A young red deer in the wild in Scotland.

In November 2019 it was revealed that a 45-year study indicated that climate change had affected the gene pool of the red deer population on Rùm, one of the Inner Hebrides islands, Scotland. Warmer temperatures resulted in deer giving birth on average three days earlier for each decade of the study. The gene which selects for earlier birth has increased in the population because does with the gene have more calves over their lifetime. Dr Timothée Bonnet, of the Australian National University, leader of the study, said they had "documented evolution in action".[106]

In December 2019 the results of a joint study by Chicago's Field Museum and the University of Michigan into changes in the morphology of birds was published in Ecology Letters. The study uses bodies of birds which died as a result of colliding with buildings in Chicago, Illinois, since 1978. The sample is made up of over 70,000 specimens from 52 species and span the period from 1978 to 2016. The study shows that the length of birds' lower leg bones (an indicator of body sizes) shortened by an average of 2.4% and their wings lengthened by 1.3%. In November 2021, a study published in Science Advances reported similar results from central Amazon. Led by Louisiana State University, this research examined body measurements of 77 nonmigratory bird species captured live between 1979 and 2019 within undisturbed rainforest. Birds have decreased in mass (an indicator of size) by up to 2% per decade, and increased in wing length by up to 1% per decade, with links to temperature and precipitation shifts. The findings of these studies suggest the morphological changes are the result of climate change, and may demonstrate an example of evolutionary change following Bergmann's rule.[107][108][109][110]

9. Impacts of Species Degradation Due to Climate Change on Livelihoods

The livelihoods of nature dependent communities depend on abundance and availability of certain species.[111] Climate change conditions such as increase in atmospheric temperature and carbon dioxide concentration directly affect availability of biomass energy, food, fiber and other ecosystem services.[112] Degradation of species supplying such products directly affect the livelihoods of people relying on them more so in Africa.[113] The situation is likely to be exacerbated by changes in rainfall variability which is likely to give dominance to invasive species especially those that are spread across large latitudinal gradients.[114] The effects that climate change has on both plant and animal species within certain ecosystems has the ability to directly affect the human inhabitants who rely on natural resources. Frequently, the extinction of plant and animal species create a cyclic relationship of species endangerment in ecosystems which are directly affected by climate change.[115]


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