Forestry and Environmental Studies Professor to Assess Effect of Global Climate Change on Biodiversity

A $100,000 grant for “Assessing Sensitivity to Anticipated Climate Change in the Continental United States” has been awarded to the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

The grant from the Edward John Noble Foundation will support the work of Oswald Schmitz, professor of population and community ecology, who will assess the effects of global climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem function, focusing specifically on bioreserves and protected areas.

“Unfortunately, the state of ecosystem science is very crude at this point, and yet there is a need to inform environmental decision-makers and to propose solutions,” Schmitz said. “We are currently unable to offer insight into the risks of such occurrences, beyond mere speculation. Reliable insight requires quantitative analyses that describe the ecosystem processes and their linkage with climate using state-of-the-art computational modeling.”

Schmitz will conduct a two-year quantitative assessment of the sensitivity of wildlife species within selected key national parks and protected areas to climate warming.

He said current thinking suggests that many species will migrate with shifting ecosystems that contain their habitats or go extinct because they are unable to cope with changing climate. For example, songbirds may go extinct because climate warming changes the life-cycle timing of their primary source of nourishment-insects during spring breeding periods.

Therefore, bioreserves and protected areas with fixed political boundaries may not keep pace with the changing landscape and achieve the goal of protecting biodiversity in perpetuity.

“Solutions to this problem are not yet available because, beyond mere educated guesswork, there is no scientifically rigorous assessment of the fate of wildlife species under projected future climate change,” Schmitz said.

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