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Ecosystems across the United States are changing in complex and surprising ways. Ongoing demand for critical ecosystem services requires an understanding of the populations and communities in these ecosystems in the future. This paper represents a synthesis effort of the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network addressing the core research area of “populations and communities.” The objective of this effort was to show the importance of long-term data collection and experiments for addressing the hardest questions in scientific ecology that have significant implications for environmental policy and management. Each LTER site developed at least one compelling case study about what their site could look like in 50–100 yr as human and environmental drivers influencing specific ecosystems change. As the case studies were prepared, five themes emerged, and the studies were grouped into papers in this LTER Futures Special Feature addressing state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects. This paper addresses the “connectivity” theme and has examples from the Phoenix (urban), Niwot Ridge (alpine tundra), McMurdo Dry Valleys (polar desert), Plum Island (coastal), Santa Barbara Coastal (coastal), and Jornada (arid grassland and shrubland) sites. Connectivity has multiple dimensions, ranging from multi-scalar interactions in space to complexmore »
Abstract Climate change is altering naturally fluctuating environmental conditions in coastal and estuarine ecosystems across the globe. Departures from long-term averages and ranges of environmental variables are increasingly being observed as directional changes [e.g., rising sea levels, sea surface temperatures (SST)] and less predictable periodic cycles (e.g., Atlantic or Pacific decadal oscillations) and extremes (e.g., coastal flooding, marine heatwaves). Quantifying the short- and long-term impacts of climate change on tidal marsh seascape structure and function for nekton is a critical step toward fisheries conservation and management. The multiple stressor framework provides a promising approach for advancing integrative, cross-disciplinary research on tidal marshes and food web dynamics. It can be used to quantify climate change effects on and interactions between coastal oceans (e.g., SST, ocean currents, waves) and watersheds (e.g., precipitation, river flows), tidal marsh geomorphology (e.g., vegetation structure, elevation capital, sedimentation), and estuarine and coastal nekton (e.g., species distributions, life history adaptations, predator-prey dynamics). However, disentangling the cumulative impacts of multiple interacting stressors on tidal marshes, whether the effects are additive, synergistic, or antagonistic, and the time scales at which they occur, poses a significant research challenge. This perspective highlights the key physical and ecological processes affecting tidal marshes, withmore »
Abstract Forest and freshwater ecosystems are tightly linked and together provide important ecosystem services, but climate change is affecting their species composition, structure, and function. Research at nine US Long Term Ecological Research sites reveals complex interactions and cascading effects of climate change, some of which feed back into the climate system. Air temperature has increased at all sites, and those in the Northeast have become wetter, whereas sites in the Northwest and Alaska have become slightly drier. These changes have altered streamflow and affected ecosystem processes, including primary production, carbon storage, water and nutrient cycling, and community dynamics. At some sites, the direct effects of climate change are the dominant driver altering ecosystems, whereas at other sites indirect effects or disturbances and stressors unrelated to climate change are more important. Long-term studies are critical for understanding the impacts of climate change on forest and freshwater ecosystems.
Climate change is already disrupting US forests and coasts – here’s what we’re seeing at 5 long-term research sites.Record-breaking heat waves and drought have left West Coast rivers lethally hot for salmon, literally cooked millions of mussels and clams in their shells and left forests primed to burn. The extraordinary severity of 2021’s heat and drought, and its fires and floods, has many people questioning whether climate change, fueled by human actions, is progressing even faster than studies have predicted and what that means for the future. As ecologists, we have watched climate change play out over decades at long-term research sites in forests, fields and coastal areas across the U.S. A recent series of five papers in the journal Ecosphere presents more than 25 case studies from these sites, providing a unique perspective on the changes underway and what’s likely ahead as the planet continues to warm. Here are snapshots of what we’re seeing firsthand in the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research Network sites, from the effect of increasing fires in Oregon’s Cascades to shifting marine life off the coast of Maine, and surprising resilience in Baltimore’s urban forests.
Cross-Site Comparisons of Dryland Ecosystem Response to Climate Change in the US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Long-term observations and experiments in diverse drylands reveal how ecosystems and services are responding to climate change. To develop generalities about climate change impacts at dryland sites, we compared broadscale patterns in climate and synthesized primary production responses among the eight terrestrial, nonforested sites of the United States Long-Term Ecological Research (US LTER) Network located in temperate (Southwest and Midwest) and polar (Arctic and Antarctic) regions. All sites experienced warming in recent decades, whereas drought varied regionally with multidecadal phases. Multiple years of wet or dry conditions had larger effects than single years on primary production. Droughts, floods, and wildfires altered resource availability and restructured plant communities, with greater impacts on primary production than warming alone. During severe regional droughts, air pollution from wildfire and dust events peaked. Studies at US LTER drylands over more than 40 years demonstrate reciprocal links and feedbacks among dryland ecosystems, climate-driven disturbance events, and climate change.