University Professors Lead Climate Change Research Team

Photo Courtesy of University

Photo Courtesy of University

Jack Birle

Two University professors led a team of researchers in publishing an article about the effects of rapid climate change in ecosystems. 

University associate professors Adam Langley, PhD and Samantha K. Chapman, PhD served as lead-author and co-author, respectively, for the climate change article.

In the article, “Ambient changes exceed treatment effects on plant species abundance in global change experiments,” the researchers found that plants are becoming less able to adapt to the continuing rapid change of the earth’s temperature. According to the article, “A preponderance of evidence suggests that ongoing climate change is dramatically altering terrestrial plant communities.”

Langley believes the research will have a massive impact on plants we see every day. “Locally, many plant species we’re used to will vanish, and new ones will take their places as plant populations migrate, adjust or go extinct,” Langley said. “What this great shift means for our planet remains to be seen.”

According to the research, treatment for species to adapt to the constantly changing climate is not enough to combat the issue. The article details that “for most species (57%) the magnitude of ambient change was greater than the magnitude of treatment effects.”

This research article was published the same month the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared “unprecedented” action is necessary to stop rapid global warming. 

The climate change panel found previous projections for global warming were slower than what is happening in reality. 

The research in the article echoes similar concerns the IPCC has recently expressed about temperature goals in relation to climate change. The climate change panel’s findings have led to calls for drastic changes to emissions goals due to the rapid and unforeseen changes in the earth’s temperature.

Chapman wasn’t surprised the report came to a similar conclusion to their research. “One key take-away from the IPCC report that supports our findings is that changes across many ecosystems may be happening faster than we thought,” Chapman said.  “Plants are shifting under our feet as we’re trying to predict the future.” 

The team of 16 researchers included Langley and Chapman, along with professors from other universities around the world including the University of California (Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara), the University of Minnesota and the University of Tasmania in Australia. Other researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and AgResearch Grasslands.

Because of the constantly changing environment, the research was especially difficult to conduct. “We are trying to simulate how the future earth will look with global change, but, climate change and nutrient pollution are changing ecosystems so fast it’s tough to experiment on top of those changes,” Langely said. “In the face of ongoing environmental change, our experiments may be like ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’.” 

Langley also stressed the significance of the effects on the environment. “Plants are the base of the food web and drive the carbon cycle, nutrient cycles and water cycles on which we rely,” he said.

With the IPPC’s findings along with this research teams findings, the response to climate change scientists provide is becoming more bleak.

On the topic of the changing climate Langely finished with a dire remark: “When the plant species change, everything else in the ecosystem may follow.”