Can Ecologists fight climate change?

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

Ecologists study how all living things interact with each other and the environment [1]. Here are a few examples of how they can help combat climate change:

1) Nature-based Solutions: these are ways of working with nature to help humans [10]. For example, planting and restoring forests can reduce soil erosion and landslides [11], reduce flood risk [9], reduce the impact of droughts [8,10], as well as taking up CO2 from the air [10]. It’s the job of ecologists to work out how to protect and restore natural habitats in order to maximise the benefits they provide to humans [14,17].

2) Natural Capital: ecologists work with economists to put a financial value on the services that ecosystems provide for people – this is called ‘natural capital’ [6]. For example, trees near rivers reduce erosion and improve water quality [7]. In the countryside surrounding New York City about 20,000 landowners are paid to maintain forests in order to improve water quality [2,7]. New York City uses this unfiltered water as safe drinking water, meaning the cost of water treatment is avoided [15,16].

3) Modelling the potential responses of nature to climate change: we have a much better understanding of how the climate itself will change, than how nature will respond to it [3]. We do, however, understand how some plants, animals and ecosystems respond to climate change. For example, as temperatures rise the Amazon rainforest will at some point cross a ‘tipping point’ where large parts of the forest will die and be replaced by savannah [4]. This is predicted to happen at 3-5°C of global warming, or when 40% of the forest is cut down by humans [4,5]. Since the 1960s, about 20% of the Amazon has been cut down [4]; ecologists advise that we should halt deforestation and increase forest area in order to avoid crossing the tipping point [5].

There are many more possibilities!

References

[1] https://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/about/what-is-ecology/

[2] https://sustainabilitycommunity.nature.com/users/85108-james-salzman/posts/31181-global-market-for-ecosystem-services-surges-to-36-billion-in-annual-transactions

[3] https://madingley.github.io/

[4] https://sleepinggiants.earth/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Sleeping-financial-giants-report-24-September-2018.pdf#page=13 See: The Amazon

[5] https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/2/eaat2340.short

[6] https://www.pdx.edu/sustainability/sites/www.pdx.edu.sustainability/files/media_assets/iss/fellow_publications/Costanza%20and%20Daly%201992.pdf See: What is Natural Capital?

[7] http://www.fao.org/3/xii/0649-b3.htm

[8] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1526-100X.2010.00756.x?casa_token=G9edGdJ4UREAAAAA%3A8750-y8nx4HBC93HLlCMhsJnz9XjLgZl-1hoHl3dbeacXpA1U6pxkiCnjcVEM21nnc619NQSlWkdVYgf

[9] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2007.01446.x?casa_token=uRI7NSlWyHMAAAAA%3AOiMe-KyuhAZbU8PDGLLONtl7mtqsXieM3UT0XpxZ-_9tw-qPFnOst9Cjb3t_7IyPxxk7OStUmkWBDyj0

[10] https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/201911.0275/v1 See: Box 1; Nature-based Solutions for climate change adaptation; Nature-based Solutions for climate change mitigation

[11] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925857412001024

[12] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09269-z

[13] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-04568-z

[14] https://www.fs.fed.us/research/publications/misc/63356_2005_Lamb%20et%20al_Restoration_Science.pdf

[15] https://www.nycwatershed.org/about-us/overview/croton-catskilldelaware-watersheds/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA89zvBRDoARIsAOIePbClsmPCJ2TM2z5eRtvicwfTyiBy-nS-zAgNh1ogMFSXfQ_BY-9ZxOYaAvSaEALw_wcB

[16] https://wwf.panda.org/?204446/New-York-water

[17] https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002052

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