Reconstructing Ancient Ecosystems’ Response to Climate Change to Inform Future Conservation

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In a new Science article coauthored by the Director of the Southwest CASC and South Central CASC, researchers use prehistoric data to predict and mitigate future biodiversity loss.

Paleowetland deposits in the Las Vegas Valley

Paleowetland deposits in the Las Vegas Valley. 

(Credit: Eric Scott, John D. Cooper Center for Archaeology and Paleontology. )

Read the original press release from the University of Adelaide here.

Researchers have documented biological effects of climate change on every continent, from shifting range boundaries to species declines and even extinctions. Understanding how species will respond to climate change in the future is crucial for informing how to best preserve the world’s remaining biodiversity. A new study in Science by an international research team including Southwest CASC and South Central CASC Director Stephen Jackson details a groundbreaking approach for predicting future climate change effects: paleo-records. Using tools such as precisely-dated fossil records, genome-scale ancient DNA, and sophisticated predictive modeling, researchers reconstructed prehistoric species distributions and climate conditions and deduce how ancient ecosystems responded to past climate change. They found that individual organisms responded variably and independently to climate shifts, resulting in landscapes with shifted biome boundaries and novel species assemblages following climate change. This further altered the structure and function of ecosystems as new communities had different patterns of geochemical cycles, primary productivity, and fire regimes.

Insights from paleo-records can further be used to predict the responses of modern species to current and future climate shifts, which the authors hope will help inform better conservation and management practices across the world.

“Ongoing climate change poses an important challenge for biodiversity management,” says Southwest CASC and South Central CASC Director Stephen Jackson. “Our research shows how the recent geological past can inform effective conservation practice and policy.”

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