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Attenuated opportunities for effective wildlife protection due to rapidly changing climate

 by Joseph Siry, Ph.D., Rollins College.

"We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it's us."

Martin Parry, U.K. MET Office

Regionally biological­ diversity–or the species richness, habitat variety and genetic variability of plants and animals–will unexpectedly change due to climate chaos. Estimates of nearly three in every ten species are at risk of extinction due to this rapid rate of climate change. But the full extent and the degree of damage remains difficult to know with great certainty for three related reasons.

First is the swiftest pace of rise in heat trapping gases in 10,000 years, next there is the profound suddenness since 1950 with which this shift has occurred, and finally the accumulated level of carbon dioxide in the air is unprecedented in the past 650,000 years.

Currently, with respect to Arctic wildlife impacts and subsistence populations depending on wildlife, evidence indicates an abrupt physical shift triggering biological responses. Evident in wildlife and botanical studies from the Antarctic, the Central American isthmus, among mountain terrains in the Great Basin, and in southern Africa where observed patterns of abundance of flora or decline in fauna are indications of what may come.

There is no simple, predictive pattern that emerges aside from case specific responses of mammals, amphibians, butterflies or flowering plants to unparalleled temperature and rainfall changes. However, IPCC scientists this past year have advised that given a three degree Celsius temperature rise over the next century, up to twenty percent of the species may face extinction and minimally twenty million people may become climate refugees.

Professor Martin Parry, a senior Met Office scientist and co-chairman of the IPCC committee which produced the report, said he believed it would now be "very difficult" to achieve the target and that governments need to combine efforts to "mitigate" climate change by reducing CO2 emissions with "adaptation" to tackle active consequences such as crop failure and flooding.

Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society, he said: "Ten years ago we were talking about these impacts affecting our children and our grandchildren. Now it is happening to us."

"Even if we achieve a cap at two degrees, there is a stock of major impacts out there already and that means adaptation. You cannot mitigate your way out of this problem... The choice is between a damaged world or a future with a severely damaged world."

Global climate disruption is so pervasive, persistent, and pressing environmental matter, that when testifying before Congress the CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s second largest private utility, said “climate change is an urgent issue.”

Such assertions are based on studies revealing that declining soil moisture, average temperature increase, changes in the frequency and abundance of precipitation, an advance in the onset of spring in the northern hemisphere, and ocean acidification are all persistent physical patterns impairing biodiversity. These impacts do not reveal –in their pronounced abruptness or accelerating rate– any natural cycle. These globally evident patterns are not due to orbital variations of the earth around the sun, or periodic wobble of the planet about its axis of rotation. Instead these climate shifts arise from pollution and loss of forest cover. The accumulation of carbon dioxide in the air has accelerated from an average of over 1 ppm annually in the 1960s to over 3 ppm in the last decade. Further the biotic responses associated with observed changes in the range of butterflies, or abundance of amphibian species, or sufficient prey for puffins, penguins or polar bears indicates that abrupt temperature shifts in higher latitudes and upper elevations is well underway. The threats to animals and long-lived plants in adapting to these abrupt pressures is not well understood, nor widely appreciated.

There is now a rare scientific consensus that the heat absorbed by the oceans will continue to affect the planet for some decades, if not centuries to come. Those influences are most likely to quickly accelerate, if present population and pollution trends continue, after 2050. These impacts, as manifest in ocean thermal expansion causing sea levels to rise, will also include a shift in the frequency and abundance of rainfall away from the tropics and toward the polar latitudes. Existing studies show that some mating strategies among mammals are adaptive under rapid changes in thermal patterns, but other strategies are not. Rapidly breeding creatures with multiple small eggs will have a genetic and a population advantage, over those breeding populations with fewer offspring and longer gestation periods. Generalizations fail to capture the enormity of the range and the subtle variation in adjustments now observed among species. Subtle variations are important for indigenous hunting and gathering populations and wildlife managers alike. Twelve years ago, IPCC specialists advised that “the composition and geographical distribution of many ecosystems will shift as individual species respond to changes in climate; there will likely be reductions in biological diversity,” and “entire forest types may disappear”

Emerging evidence suggests that abrupt acclimatization is difficult. Detectable declines in cold-water ocean fisheries, altered migratory behavior of birds, shifts of insects’ ranges, and disappearance of edge species have been documented. Less certain is weather competitive advantages may expand the ranges of R- species (opportunist) or reduce ranges of K-species (specialists) populations. Isolation among breeding populations can diminish the frequency of genetic variation for desert, savanna, forest, reef and mountain species. Those populations at the extremes of their ranges face greater challenges. With projected increases in fires, adapted species may thrive in fire-dominated communities. The customary timing in the appearance of flora necessary for the breeding, feeding, or migration of organisms may likely favor adaptive generalists over narrow specialists.  After the last glaciations, reproductive success among isolated, climate sensitive populations of small mammals in vulnerable habitats witnessed no decline in genetic diversity in populations practicing exogamous mating habits (meadow voles) as opposed to endogamous behavior among prairie dogs whose genetic diversity declined.

Current fire management practices and proposals for wildlife and fishery conservation based on existing insect, amphibian and mammal studies, are reasons to reverse widespread complacency with respect to protection of water resources and terrain management where the continuation of certain keystone, or significant indicator species is at risk. An obvious example of a signal species is the loss of hard corals due to hyper-thermal water and the consequent decline in fisheries dependent on coral reefs for food and shelter. Coral reefs may indeed be the long-lived indicator of stasis; a marine biological community that cannot adapt well to abrupt ocean thermal change and may serve as a sentinel ecosystem foretelling the onset of climate chaos. These sentinel ecosystems, such as tundra, are signaling sudden and ubiquitous changes, but to what do we need to pay attention? Landscape linkages, adequate buffers, watershed protection are underlying provisions for contemporary conservation made all the more necessary by the fact that the air pollution which drives climate chaos damages ecosystem services provided by natural areas. 

Due primarily to the build-up of carbon and nitrogen based vaporous gases in the air and carbon compounds in the oceans that retain heat, long term and dispersed impacts from warming will linger a century or more after the suspected causes of pollution are remedied. Persistent pollution derived from carbon combustion is driving a set of positive feedback responses from natural stores of carbon, primarily in the arctic and sub-arctic belts where permafrost is melting. Thawing permafrost releases methane of anaerobic respiration from organisms native to tundra dominated vegetation belts. Because methane is nearly thirty times as intense as carbon dioxide in retaining heat, the thermal insulating capacity of increased methane is but one example of how human induced changes will continue to produce responses of some magnitude with respect to rising temperatures. Although it has a shorter atmospheric residence time than does carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas of particular concern to oceanographers and tundra specialists.

The sources of carbon pollution driving global climate change are widespread but largely confined to industrialized populations of the northern hemisphere with the exceptions of Brazil, South Africa and Australia. Four primary sectors with numerous sources of carbon polluters are transportation, utilities, manufacturing, and deforestation. The mass combustion of fossil fuels as a contributing source of carbon compounds far outweighs the wood burning or deforestation as a prevailing factor in global climate change. By altering behavior that relies heavily on fossil fuel use, those who promote solutions or mitigation for climate change hope to slow the increasing rate of heat trapping gases in the air. The loss of fast growing trees that accumulate carbon dioxide (called carbon sinks) is an example of another positive feedback response driving an accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Because these two vegetative examples of forests and tundra ecosystems are distributed worldwide, the term climate change is less descriptive of trends observed in resident species and their habitats. Further the term does not promote the need for placing greater economic value on ecosystems where carbon is stored and the processes that sequester carbon dioxide.

Consider the combined impacts from significant snow loss, the inexorable advance of earlier spring in the northern hemisphere, the retreat of mountain glaciers and ice cover, and the documented increase in the rate of sea level rise since the 1930s in the western North Atlantic. These physical manifestations of thermal imbalance suggest that what has been called global warming or climate change has all the ingredients of climate chaos. Chaos is particularly true in terms of the brief time frame in which indigenous people and wildlife mangers must respond. The term climate chaos has been used in the United Kingdom to best express the numerous unintended consequences based on feedback mechanisms inherent in natural vegetative systems driven by climate. With respect to the climate forcing capacities of thermally reradiating compounds (carbon dioxide, chloroflouro carbons, methane and nitrous oxide), which drive climate chaos, the unintended consequences may be severe. Climate chaos is a more suggestive word for unexpected responses seen in wildlife or fisheries to an array of soil, water, vegetation and nutrient loss situations influencing entire ecosystems where indigenous peoples seek sustenance, and for which wildlife managers must make long-term decisions.

Under conditions of climate chaos, ample water sources, adequate buffers, and sufficient land area for breeding populations are primary necessities for protecting wildlife. The quality of both water and vegetative resources requires watershed protection and buffers to maintain thriving conditions with generous reserves to meet an anticipated rise in average annual temperatures or shifts in rainfall frequency and abundance. The existence of inter-connective parcels, corridors and trails for predator and prey species movement is obligatory because disturbance or intrusive loss of habitat reconfigures food webs. Climate chaos expands the elements necessary for adequate wildlife management since a greater demand for access to water, breeding areas, vegetative cover, prey, and shelter reduces the threshold of tolerance for at risk populations. Increasing drought, for example, in the Amazon basin makes increased water conservation a priority as demand for sufficient water for wildlife, indigenous populations and municipalities rises. Without sufficient water, a triage situation arises. Such a triage condition exists now in the American southwest and south Florida where –as currently used– there is insufficient water to meet the rising demands of urban, agricultural and wildlife management simultaneously. Thus the old concept of providing enough water in terms of quality, quantity, timing and distribution, to ecological systems managed for wildlife takes on acute importance because of climate chaos. Current dispersal patterns may not afford wildlife or fisheries the needed pathways for future migrations. As Larry Harris and Wendell Cropper suggested in 1989, “in the face of changing climate and rising sea levels, entire faunas will need to shift across the landscape in search of climatically suitable habitat. It is clearly not feasible, however to purchase the entire landscape for public ownership and wildlife protection."

Predictions over the last two decades, (from 1992 until 2007) suggest species loss will not be a gradual process. Edward O. Wilson suggests that a genetic, as well as physical, bottleneck with respect to survival of biological diversity is the looming prospect. He explains, “The immediate future is usefully conceived as a bottleneck. Science and Technology, combined with a lack of self understanding and Paleolithic obstinacy, brought us to where we are today.” We have seen this in the 90 percent decline in wading bird populations in the Florida everglades since the 1930s. Wilson (1989) identifies a less varied fauna after recovery because the shrunken gene pool sizes possess less varied traits. He also suggests that  “hot spots” exist where the biological wealth remains largely intact, but is under serious threat from human intrusion. Wilson is clear. He says, “In short, the Earth has lost its ability to regenerate -- unless global consumption is reduced, or global production is increased, or both.” So persuasive is the accumulating biological evidence that a recent Australian assessment of biological diversity with respect to climate change is unequivocal in recommending that:

A clear message needs to be sent to both the community and governments, by policy-makers, interested groups and researchers, about the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. The message should be based on clear, and preferably quantitative, information about the likely impacts. We need to be able to identify which aspects of biodiversity (that is, which species, communities and ecosystems services) are most likely to be affected, the scale of the severity of the impacts (for instance, an alteration of the geographic range of a few species, replacement of ecosystems, or the extinction of a large fraction of species) and the rate at which these impacts may occur.

Michael Soule, nearly two decades ago suggested that now is “a bad time for climate change to occur” because of widespread decline in viable habitat due to an unprecedented rise in human populations –particularly population growth in areas where biological diversity is most pronounced. Specialists have identified three major tropical forests and twenty-five focal ecological systems –so-called biodiversity hot spots– in order to direct conservation efforts since the clash between rising human populations and shrinking habitats is most acute in these places. “Nearly half the world's vascular plant species and one-third of terrestrial vertebrates are endemic to 25 ‘hotspots’ of biodiversity, each of which has at least 1500 endemic plant species. None of these hotspots have more than one-third of their pristine habitat remaining. Historically, they covered 12% of the land's surface, but today their intact habitat covers only 1.4% of the land.” Today, the loss of water, soil moisture, and air pollution that accompany global climate chaos further compromise the ecological integrity of even our largest preserves, especially in the arctic and the tropics. The relative seclusion that immense wild reserves once afforded plants and animals is now, an ineffective guarantor of wildlife protection due to global shifts in temperature, rainfall, soil moisture, sea level configurations and decline in snow cover.           


Taking a coarse grained view of the climate problem from too wide or large-scale focus may contribute to ineffective policies. When predicting and managing influences, for example, a study of the impact of climate change as anticipated on the Fynboss, vegetation association of the Cape Floristic Province (#12 above) found that “The biome-level approach appears to underestimate the risk of species diversity loss from climate change impacts…. because many narrow range endemics suffer range dislocation throughout the biome, and not only in areas identified as biome contractions.” The anticipated loss, in this case of Proteaceae (Proteas), researchers suggested that although 51 to 65 percent of the Fynboss biome may be lost, only 5 percent of the Proteaceae family “could retain more than two thirds of their range.”

Thus on a careful species and habitat level analysis the harm to wildlife dependent on widely affected vegetation may be far more serious and extensive. Take for example the situation for mammals in US National Parks. A report to the National Academy of the Sciences concludes, “Our assessment indicates that national parks are not expected to meet their mandate of protecting current mammalian species diversity within park boundaries for several reasons.” The authors explain that their finding “provides a conservative prognosis of likely direct effects.” It is the “unforeseen ways” that generate uncertainty in these researchers findings as they suggest that indirect consequences “are difficult to predict due to the rapid rate of change expected.” By unanticipated or unpredictable consequences the study suggests that “Further, climate warming is likely to result in phenological shifts, including changes in spring breeding dates, flowering, and budburst, which can further disrupt current species associations.”

Despite the lack of fine grain, or small scale data on which to base predictions, this study, unlike the Fynboss findings, reveals “that the effects of global climate change on wildlife communities may be most noticeable… as a fundamental change in community structure as species associations shift due to influxes of new species.” So “major changes in mammalian species composition” does not preclude loss of species, but merely that existing data is insufficient to either affirm or negate the hypothesis of global climate change leading to a loss of species. In looking at eight of the larger parks in the country the research team concluded that with a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide the likely disturbance is too swift and widespread to account for anything but a dramatic increase in rodents, carnivores and insectivores leading to a turnover which could diminish wildlife protection in parks.

Zoologists have sufficient evidence, over time and across several populations, on how climate changes influence sensitive species along the Panamanian Isthmus where studies of mountain cloud forests revealed declines in several vulnerable populations over two decades. The field study showed “the changes in populations of birds, lizards and anurans are concordant yet diverse.” As researchers explained “All are associated statistically with the same climatic patterns and occurred simultaneously, implying a broad response to regional climate change, which crossed an important threshold in the late 1980s.” These findings revealed that “the reduction in mist frequency reported here, which agrees with large-scale climate trends and simulations of greenhouse warming, is evident only in the daily records. The diversity of demographic changes related to this reduction suggests that climate has orchestrated them by means of several biotic mechanisms (although climate may also interact with other physical factors).” This field analysis revealed, “Similarities between demographic events suggest, however, that the climatic patterns are more than incidental to the declines.” Instead the study found that “that dry weather in 1983 increased the vulnerability of harlequin frogs (Atelopus varius) to lethal parasites along one stream inspired the ‘climate-linked epidemic hypothesis’. As the habitat dried and the frogs gathered near waterfalls, their probability of being attacked by parasitic flies increased sharply: forty dead or dying frogs were observed.”

The diminution of cloud cover, when correlated to rising sea surface temperatures, reduced frog populations in Costa Rica indirectly “Because climate affects host-parasite relationships and amphibians in various ways, it may have set the stage for similar mortality events, including those ascribed to chytrid fungus outbreaks.” It is not so much the anticipated decline or loss of species but the disturbance of trophic relations among predators, prey and parasites that may lead to an extensive disappearance of the underlying resiliency that biological communities offer breeding creatures in distressed populations. Researchers concluded that “recent, widespread amphibian extinctions in seemingly undisturbed highland forests may attest to how profound and unpredictable the outcome can be when climate change alters ecological interactions.” This case study offers us clues to why wildlife managers–even in protected areas such as the uncut cloud forests of Monteverde with ample habitat–may soon be facing a point of no return with respect to a decline in important prey populations. Clearly elevation plays a crucial role here together with an unprecedented drying out of this mist-sustained vegetation and its dependent species.

Climate chaos cannot be seen in isolation from rising consumption patterns and population growth. The widening range of uncertainty due to climate chaos wildlife managers must consider in their long-term assessments of range requirements is further compounded by fairly certain amounts of population increases and the far more uncertain future of consumer demand for water, fuels, minerals, or disposable products. Much as “business as usual” scenarios with respect to fossil fuel use for electricity and transportation lead to a doubling of carbon dioxide in 37 years, so a complacent approach to wildlife protection fails under pressures from consumption and population growth because climate chaos modifies the very measures used to determine the adequate range and breeding needs of existing indicator species. These species in turn are signals for the conditions required by competing or codependent species in a habitat. Consider for example in the Everglades cattail marsh spreading into saw grass meadows of as one indication of the increase in phosphorus levels of water flowing over and through the terrain. Climate chaos, because of an inexorable rise in sea level due to ocean thermal expansion, has produced a shoreward retreat and replacement of saw grass meadows by salt tolerant mangroves. Vegetative changes based on shifting water quality and soil moisture conditions must be monitored for wildlife conservation to succeed as the bottleneck’s size constricts and unpredictable impacts of climate chaos persist.  Insect and bird populations’ sensitivity, well documented from the studies of habitat transformation and chemical pollution in the 20th century, is a significant focus for understanding impending changes taking place in vegetative or fishery food sources.

tree with moneyPopulation clash: suburban growth and wildlife decline
Checkerspot butterflies: timing, seed, rain, foliage, egg laying & hatching caterpillars.

Cases where Climate clashes with biological patterns:
Genes: in exogamy meadow voles and endogamy in prairie dogs since the Pleistocene leads to preservation & loss of genetic variability.

  • Polar bears and rapid habitat shrinkage.
  • European ocean birds and east Arctic sandeel fishery decline.
  • Antarctic krill and penguin population declines.
  • Australian forest species mixture changes.
  • Kirtland’s warbler, & Iberian Guillemot are just 2 affected bird species.
  • Large faunal extinction trend in the past 15,000 years.


Summary Points
       1. The advance of spring events (bud burst, flowering, breaking hibernation, migrating, breeding) has been documented on all but one continent and in all major oceans for all well-studied marine, freshwater, and terrestrial groups.
       2. Variation in phenological response between interacting species has already resulted in increasing asynchrony in predator-prey and insect-plant systems, with mostly negative consequences.
       3. Pole ward range shifts have been documented for individual species, as have expansions of warm-adapted communities, on all continents and in most of the major oceans for all well-studied plant and animal groups.
       4. These observed changes have been mechanistically linked to local or regional climate change through long-term correlations between climate and biological variation, experimental manipulations in the field and laboratory, and basic physiological research.
       5. Shifts in abundances and ranges of parasites and their vectors are beginning to influence human disease dynamics.
       6. Range-restricted species, particularly polar and mountaintop species, show more-severe range contractions than other groups and have been the first groups in which whole species have gone extinct due to recent climate change. Tropical coral reefs and amphibians are the taxonomic groups most negatively impacted.
       7. Although evolutionary responses have been documented (mainly in insects), there is little evidence that observed genetic shifts are of the type or magnitude to prevent predicted species extinctions.

Harris and Cropper’s recommendations for landscape linkages, buffers, refugia with escape corridors.
Cost of biodiversity – without indicator species, natural trends and impacts on native conditions are difficult to describe.
Value of biodiversity – of the $33 trillion annually that natural systems are estimated to produce in terms of economic values, biological variety has both viewer value in terms of money spent, recreation value in terms of fishing and hunting expenditures, and watershed protection advantages in terms of the cost required for replacing native water sources. The watershed value to New York City of the Catskill Mountain’s habitat for wildlife and fisheries, for example, is estimated to be between $6 billion and $8 billion annually because it affords residents drinking water that does not have to be treated.

Wilson persuasively shows that “One recent study suggests that an investment of $28 billion is needed to maintain at least a representative sample of Earth’s ecosystems, land and sea, pole to pole. Beyond a mere sample, a comparable sum would achieve a very high yield of species level conservation through investment in the biologically richest segments, especially in the tropics.” Such an area would cost “$4 billion,” to manage successfully what we have now protected. Wilson has argued that the cost of protecting all the vulnerable, yet biologically diverse areas on Earth would cost  “about one-thousandth of the annual combined gross national products of the world.” What is more, Wilson makes a case that  “the tropical wilderness areas and the hottest of the hotspots on the land and in shallow marine habitats which together contain perhaps 70% of Earth’s plant and animal species can be saved by a single investment of $30 billion.” The value of such biological diversity outweighs the cost of actually purchasing these twenty-five hot spots. Due to the urgency of climate chaos, these areas take on an additional value as barometers of air pollution and carbon sinks, or biotic treasure houses of genetic information needed by organisms to better cope with abrupt changes in temperature and rainfall.

Recently evidence has been presented that the cost of doing nothing about climate chaos outweighs doing something. The Stern Commission insisted that a 1/3 loss of species could occur under an extreme projection for a three degree Celsius rise by 2100. Stern argued further that:

The effects of our actions now on future changes in the climate have long lead times.
       What we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years.  On the other hand what we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next.  

The “canary in the coalmine” analogy has been used frequently to identify the roles played by wildlife and fisheries in the warnings they provide with respect to impending changes in the physical and chemical conditions of existence. When a caged canary died for want of oxygen in a mine, the miners knew that unless they responded, they were next. The earth’s remaining wilderness is not an expendable sentinel in the unending, witless war of humans against nature. Instead partnership imagery is needed for us to forestall an attitude of triage from becoming widespread and tolerable among the population who pay for wildlife protection and habitat conservation. For many the pet, or zoological park analogy about wildlife’s importance is adequate since Aldo Leopold’s suggestion that a crane marsh possesses a ‘palaeontological patent of nobility’ has never become a widespread image. The partnership status of wildlife and human progress remains elusive even though such imagery is urgently needed to see us through the bottleneck imposed by current consumption increases and long-term climate chaos impacts on biological diversity. Due to the growing uncertainty implied by climate chaos and the loss of sentinel species by which to clearly read the auguries of changing habitats, might I suggest that we understand wildlife as our “seeing eye dogs?” Our self-imposed blindness about not knowing how to respond includes an inability to agree on effective actions, so we need wildlife as a guide. By the time enough people recognize global warming’s adverse impacts, chaotic circumstances within a decade may overwhelm responses to reverse the momentum caused by a doubling of heat trapping gases. We need to invest in forests, wetlands and reefs as carbon banks and pay for them with proceeds derived from the monetization of carbon dioxide pollution.

Blindness arises from an inability to predict outcomes and from correctly interpreting the evidence. A warmer ecological condition requires us to replace the measuring devices we use to fathom the depth of the shoals we are approaching with respect to the width of our passage through the straights or this “bottleneck” imposed on wildlife diversity by population, consumption, and climate chaos. The need for wildlife and fisheries in directing our conservation efforts only grows more necessary, not less. Human impacts on the world over the last 100 years require many long-lived and old growth species for us to better comprehend how predator-prey relations influence both game and non-game species. The decline in Pacific Ocean plankton has consequences for the annual oxygen production as well as food for krill, squid, tuna or baleen whale populations and their respective prey. At the end of that train of causal relations is the Inuit or Melanesian island native, or fishing industries that must use the sea to feed families, villages, or markets. In this sense the hunter and fisher are as much the keepers of our seeing-eye dogs as are wildlife managers. Precisely because the future remains so divorced from past experiences with respect to weather patterns and climate, we need these seeing-eye dogs. For instance, we must be alert to C-4 plants replacing C-3 plants with their related prey communities and the extent to which those adaptations open or close opportunities for existing species to prosper.

The character of our measure is changing from a linear to a logarithmic scale of impact and response so that slight changes may have huge consequences. The wealth of nature will be measured less by an ecological “yard stick” counting every species and assessed more accurately as a litmus test of serial impacts. A new ecological situation reveals how human adaptation to climate chaos needs a more precise measure to safely sustain our growing population.

In the sticky residues of the La Brea tar pits, in Los Angeles, there is ample evidence from three million fossils of an ecosystem indicating the existence of a wetter and cooler climate 28,000 years ago. The area–once filled with saber-toothed tigers, giant ground sloth, dire wolves, camels, and mammoths that fed on c-4 type grasses–was drenched by summer rains but now has vanished. Such wildlife and associated vegetation no longer dwell in the oak savannah woodlands of the southern California coastal plains. Perhaps we have, with climate chaos, a clue to how these creatures disappeared due to a systemic collapse based on water loss, soil moisture decline and predator-prey imbalances that doomed the entire assemblage to extirpation as the rainfall patterns shifted from the summer to the winter seasons?

Like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck we are stunned and ineffectively protecting while failing to enlarge land and water resource areas that sustain wildlife and fisheries. We have less than a decade to begin reducing heat trapping gas pollution. These industrial impacts require adaptive systems and structures to operate in place of trial and error conservation. Wildlife and fisheries protection must be systemically and structurally adaptive to both warn of and shield us from the coming chaos of unanticipated consequences and unforeseen spin-offs of a swift and unprecedented shift in climax communities. The old ecology is dying and a new ecology is yet to mature to meet the need of the Earth’s altered and literally shrinking landmasses. The remaining planet’s biological integrity as manifest in spacious, intact habitats is our umbilicus –not mere scenic retreats or game reserves– nourishing civilization. A dependence on ecosystem resilience is a form of insurance against documented, yet still unforeseeable, challenges of climate chaos.

5054 words
6/12/07 10:27 PM




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Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life , (New York, W. W. Norton, 2000), P. 23.

Ibid., p. 27.

“Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity in Australia.” Outcomes of a workshop sponsored by the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, 1-2 Oct. 2002, Department of the Environment and Heritage, Aug. 2003, Chapter 6.

Thomas M. Brooks, et. al. “Habitat Loss and Extinction in the Hotspots of Biodiversity,” Conservation Biology, Volume 16 Issue 4 August 2002, Page 909.

Jay R. Malcolm, Canran Liu, Ronald P. Neilson, Lara Hansen, Lee Hannah, “Global Warming and Extinctions of Endemic Species from Biodiversity Hotspots,” Conservation Biology, Volume 20 Issue 2, April 2006. Page 538-548.

Midgley, et. al. “Assessing the Vulnerability of species richness to anthropogenic climate change in a biodiversity hotspot.” Global Ecology and Biogeography, November, 2002, Volume 11, Issue 6, page 445.

Catherine E. Burns, Kevin M. Johnston, and Oswald J. Schmitz, “Global Climate Change and mammalian species diversity in U.S. national parks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) September 30, 2003, (Volume 100: no. 20), pp. 11474-11477.

Acadia, Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Big Bend, and Zion.

“Letters to Nature” NATURE, 15 April 1999, Volume 398, pp. 613-614.                        www.nature.com                      

“Food fears for UK seabirds” BBC NEWS: Published: 2005/06/10 14:34:28 GMT

Camille Parmesan, ‘”Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change,’’ The Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, on August 24, 2006 , p.657.

E. O. Wilson, Future of Life, pp. 105-108.

Ibid, p. 182-183.

Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, Executive Summary. October, 2006, p. 1.



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