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Using paleoecological data to inform decision making: A deep-time perspective

August 11, 2022

Latest climate models project conditions for the end of this century that are generally outside of the human experience. These future conditions affect the resilience and sustainability of ecosystems, alter biogeographic zones, and impact biodiversity. Deep-time records of paleoclimate provide insight into the climate system over millions of years and provide examples of conditions very different from the present day, and in some cases similar to model projections for the future. In addition, the deep-time paleoecologic and sedimentologic archives provide insight into how species and habitats responded to past climate conditions. Thus, paleoclimatology provides essential context for the scientific understanding of climate change needed to inform resource management policy decisions. The Pliocene Epoch (5.3–2.6 Ma) is the most recent deep-time interval with relevance to future global warming. Analysis of marine sediments using a combination of paleoecology, biomarkers, and geochemistry indicates a global mean annual temperature for the Late Pliocene (3.6–2.6 Ma) ∼3°C warmer than the preindustrial. However, the inability of state-of-the-art climate models to capture some key regional features of Pliocene warming implies future projections using these same models may not span the full range of plausible future climate conditions. We use the Late Pliocene as one example of a deep-time interval relevant to management of biodiversity and ecosystems in a changing world. Pliocene reconstructed sea surface temperatures are used to drive a marine ecosystem model for the North Atlantic Ocean. Given that boundary conditions for the Late Pliocene are roughly analogous to present day, driving the marine ecosystem model with Late Pliocene paleoenvironmental conditions allows policymakers to consider a future ocean state and associated fisheries impacts independent of climate models, informed directly by paleoclimate information.

Publication Year 2022
Title Using paleoecological data to inform decision making: A deep-time perspective
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2022.972179
Authors Harry J. Dowsett, Peter Jacobs, Kim de Mutsert
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70234191
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Florence Bascom Geoscience Center