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!





[4] See: The Amazon


[6] See: What is Natural Capital?




[10] See: Box 1; Nature-based Solutions for climate change adaptation; Nature-based Solutions for climate change mitigation








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