Preventing biodiversity change with natural laboratories

Close up photo of fossils

With our support, the International Panel for Climate Change has now documented the effects of global climate change on every biome on earth.

Safeguarding biodiversity against future climate changes requires better predictions and more effective solutions. To meet the need, our researchers are ‘putting the dead to work’, using fossils, ancient DNA and ecological models, to better anticipate and manage biodiversity responses to future climate change. 

This is being done by pinpointing, in space and time, where past climate warming events occurred that are similar to potential warming scenarios, at local and regional scales. These reference points in Earth’s history provide the researchers with the location and timing of potentially vital natural, unplanned experiments.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Damien Fordham says the type of data they can collect from these sites has the potential to help inform numerous international conservation plans for species and ecosystems around the world.

“Using fossil and molecular data from these sites and advanced computational approaches, we are able to unveil ecological and evolutionary responses to these rapid warming events,” said Associate Professor Fordham. 

“Collectively, these natural laboratories are helping us to better predict and understand the consequences of future global warming on rates of terrestrial biodiversity loss and their effects on ecosystem properties, including the goods and services they provide to humanity.” 

Furthermore, the research findings are enabling us to identify what causes some species to be more prone to climate-driven extinction than others, and how to improve early-warning systems that signal impending population collapse, extinction or ecosystem shifts as a result of climate change. 

This research is part of a global exercise, involving a large number of institutions, and covering a wide range of species and regions, producing interesting results. 

“We have been able to identify regions of the world with some of the largest overlap between past and future warming events and these are located in the Arctic, Eurasia, Amazon and New Zealand. These areas, which are climatically and biologically diverse, are providing us with really important natural laboratories for better understanding biotic responses to trajectories of future climate change.”

Tagged in Environment, sustainability and climate change, fossils, biodiversity, natural laboratories