National Academies Press: OpenBook

Climate Change and Ecosystems (2019)

Chapter: Preface

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Suggested Citation:"Preface." National Academy of Sciences. 2019. Climate Change and Ecosystems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25504.


Climate change is already having a dramatic effect on many ecosystems, leading to questions about what the future will bring. In recent years, plant and animal populations have changed much more quickly and drastically than anticipated, and there is evidence that the pace of change is accelerating. Researchers have grown increasingly concerned about the changes observed, especially in light of the many valuable services that ecosystems provide to human societies.

This state of heightened concern was the backdrop to the Sackler Forum on Climate Change and Ecosystems that was held in Washington, DC, on November 8-9, 2018. Jointly organized by the National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society, the forum brought together leading scientists and practitioners in the fields of climate change, ecology, land use, and biodiversity who study terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystems—research communities that do not commonly have opportunities to collaborate.

The forum had moments of both pessimism and optimism, and attendees recognized that the effects of climate change are context specific and could lead to negative, neutral, or positive outcomes. Climate change is posing widespread and complex challenges to species and to ecosystem function, as well as to associated services that natural systems provide to society. The forum highlighted current research frontiers such as the effects of climate extremes; interactions among climate and other stressors; the timing, sequence, and clustering of climate-related events; and tipping points for abrupt change. At the same time, society can adapt to altered conditions with the help of healthy ecosystems by using nature-based solutions to climate-related challenges. Greater understanding of ecosystems could reveal how they can best be managed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The forum highlighted that healthy, well-managed landscapes and seascapes have the potential to be part of the solution to the climate change challenge.

Although there is room for greater understanding, enough is known to take informed action now. Researchers at the forum demonstrated that they are reaching beyond their fields and taking responsibility for discussing, disseminating, and promoting their work to inform political and societal decisions. They are also going beyond identifying problems and are offering compelling solutions that can be widely implemented, with the potential to deliver broad societal benefits.

The Sackler Forum provides an opportunity for leading scientists, primarily from the United States and United Kingdom, to identify research opportunities, build multidisciplinary and international collaborations, and discuss how science can provide or inform solutions to pressing international problems. Few issues are as important for the future of human society and life on Earth as the past, current, and future interactions of climate change and ecosystems.

President, National Academy of Sciences President, The Royal Society
Suggested Citation:"Preface." National Academy of Sciences. 2019. Climate Change and Ecosystems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25504.
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The National Academies convened a forum on November 8-9, 2018 to highlight current research frontiers such as the effects of climate extremes, interactions among climate and other stressors, the timing, sequence, and clustering of climate-related events, and tipping points for abrupt change. Topics of discussion at the forum pertained to the changes ecosystems are currently undergoing, sustaining ecosystems, the impact of ecosystems on global climate change, societal adaptation to climate change, and priorities for future research. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions from the forum.

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