The Basics

In evolutionary biology, species can respond to changes in their environment in four distinct (but not mutually exclusive) ways.

They can:

  • Acclimate (adjust behaviors and phenotypic expression to better survive in their habitat)
  • Die (pretty self explanatory)
  • Move (physically move from one geographic region to another)
  • Adapt (evolve to better survive in their habitat)
Click on a link to learn more about each response to climate change!
In this class, we will mostly be concerned with the last two responses - movement and adaptation.

As species face multiple effects of climate change (such as changes in temperature, salinity, acidity, etc.) they may respond differently to different factors. For example, sea turtles may respond to rising sea levels by moving but respond to changes in acidity by adapting. Each additional environmental pressure provides a unique challenge for a species to overcome. (Man, we really like sea turtles on our site.)

The first step to addressing climate change is recognizing that it IS happening.

Although some consider climate change ( or "Global Warming") to be debatable or at least exaggerated, there is good evidence to show that climate change is indeed occuring at an alarming rate and that it will greatly impact both marine and terrestrial environments.

Exploring responses to Climate Change- Let's Get Started!

There are many ways to approach predicting the effects climate change will have on species. One effective way is to study how changing certain aspects of the environment affects populations. Additionally, observing the effects of climate change on particular traits of a species gives us information on how a species will respond to climate change. Natural disasters provide a unique opportunity for scientists to study the effects of drastic habitat change on species. Lastly, it is important to note that climate change is discussed in a variety of contexts outside of the world of science. Some of these contexts will be explored.

Aspects of the Environment

By studying the manipulation of certain aspects of a species' environment, we can predict how that species might react under similar changes in the global climate.

In modern times, climate change often refers to the increase in the Earth's average temperature. Since the 20th century, the Earth's average temperature has increased by about 0.7° Celsius and is expected to continue to increase by about 0.2° Celsius per decade. This increase in temperature is expected to affect many things from fetal development and reproduction to species range and survivability often in a negative manner.

Depletion of the ozone layer is the main reason that global temperature is steadily increasing and is predicted to continue to do so. As such, this topic goes hand-in-hand with the topic of temperature change.

As the temperature of the ocean increases, the amount of dissolved oxygen in it decreases. This has many implications for marine wildlife. Without sufficient oxygen, organisms struggle to survive. Many organisms' habitats are very close to their thermal limitations and if temperature rises rapidly, lack of oxygen and other effects will limit the options these organisms have.

Marine salinity levels are influenced by a number of factors including rainfall, evaporation, inflow of river water, wind, and melting of glaciers. Salinity can have a great impact on the type of organisms that live in a body of water. Additionally, salinity plays a critical role in the water cycle and ocean circulation.

Ocean carbon dioxide levels directly correlate to ocean acidity levels. About 30-40% (Feely, R. A.; et al.) of the carbon dioxide humans emit into the atmosphere dissolves into the Earth's waters. From 1751-1994, the ocean's acidity has decreased from 8.25 to 8.14 (Jacobson, M. Z). This decrease in acidity affects marine organisms in a variety of detrimental ways.

The rise in sea level is due to thermal expansion and the melting of land-based ice. Changes in sea level have a variety of effects ranging from the submerging of islands and its terrestrial inhabitants to coral reefs not receiving sufficient light due to a change in depth.

Ocean currents are the directed movements of water in the ocean and can be caused by wind (for currents closer to the surface) and temperature, salinity, or density differences (currents deeper in the ocean). Climate change can have a vast effect on ocean currents because of the change in temperature it causes, which results in change in ocean water temperatures and a subsequent distortion in current flow.

Traits of a Species

Here we study the effects of environmental changes on specific traits in order to predict their reaction to climate change.

Movement refers to the change in an organism's typical habitat as it "searches" for a more hospitable environment in which to eat, live, and reproduce. Movement is one of the four ways that an organism or an entire species can respond to a change in their environment and it is heavily affected by climate change. Generally, marine organisms move towards the poles and away from the equator.

Gene flow refers to the movement of alleles due to migration of individuals between two populations. This topic is closely related to the topic of movement.

Often the egg or larval stage of marine ectotherms are the most susceptible to changes in the marine environment. Because of this, reproduction will likely be greatly affected by climate change.

Natural Disasters

There seems to be an increase in the amount of highly damaging natural disasters both inside and outside of the US. These natural disasters impact the climate and habitat of many organisms. Climate change might be the cause of the increase in horrifying natural disasters. On this page you can find more information on the relationship between climate change and many different forms of natural disasters.

Climate Change Outside of the Scientific Realm

The topic of climate change pervades many asects of human life. A few are discussed below.

Climate change threatens many marine-dependent sectors of the economy such as fisheries, transportation, and tourism. As climate change continues, its negative effects on the economy will worsen. Many countries, however, continue to implement practices that result in short-term economic boosts but long-term environmental decay.

As the world learns about the reality and possible consequences of climate change, this daunting phenomenon is becoming the topic of more and more movies, documentaries, and even television shows.

In light of the current election and the class discussion during the week of November 5th, a new "beat" topic has been added that organizes the current thoughts of climate change in politics. NOTE, this is not a place to debate politics, but rather a place to outline the different views that are present in the political system today and the ideas for solutions that have been implemented.

Each of these topics came from humble beginnings with one class, one professor, and one white board.



Sep 26, 2012

Folks, we have a lot of information coming together but I think we are still in the mindset of list-making and writing little reviews on each paper. First of all, you don't have to stick strictly to your beat topic. Second, you don't have to put things in unique places for me to be able to see your contribution, you can edit on somebody else's page(s) and it all helps. Try to push this into the form of a narrative that people could read and learn from! For example, the paragraphs above could deal with first the latitudinal shifts, and how natural disasters influence distribution, how migration is involved. Why are temperature, and Acidity, and Oxygen, things that influence reproduction, distribution, even ocean currents?
And, of course, what economic and anthropogenic effects should we be considering? See, it is less about making lists to prove you read a paper, and more about understanding how all of these papers interact and start telling a bigger story. Give it a try.

Oct 9, 2012

Class, note that I added a note - this should help you understand some of the ideas in the Sunday et al. paper better and maybe start expanding the write-up on this page some more!

Oct 24, 2012

I tried adding a few descriptions of some topics on this page, and I was wondering if anyone liked that format. I think our Introduction page has way too many links right now and not enough content, but I don't know if my changes here are a step in the right direction or just clutter.

john wares
Oct 31, 2012

Ian, that sounds like what would be good on this page, I think it is like reading a list as it is currently. At least, I think it would be more useful if this page acts as a narrative (rather than a list) that readers can dig into more as they are interested.

john wares
Oct 31, 2012

Ian, you might try again but make it more apparent what you are trying to do (I was able to dig back and see how it was for a few days), and communicate with others what is being done. We have a lot of good information here!

john wares
Nov 24, 2012

Yes!! Looking good!

Nov 26, 2012

ian: i like the summary idea

Nov 27, 2012

Almost every beat topic has a brief summary to go with it. Just a few more to go!

Nov 28, 2012

I promise I'm almost done. I let my OCD go a little crazy all over our page, hope you like it. At the very end, I wanted to link the picture of the white board to "white board," but I lost it! If you find it that would be cool. :]

john wares
Nov 28, 2012

yikes i need to update my departmental website :)

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