National Academies Press: OpenBook

Effects of Past Global Change on Life (1995)


Suggested Citation:"CLIMATE TOLERANCES OF TROPICAL ORGANISMS." National Research Council. 1995. Effects of Past Global Change on Life. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4762.
Page 113

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TROPICAL CLIMATE STABILITY AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DISTRIBUTION OF LIFE 113 ticularly interesting for global change studies and for considering the tropical response to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the near future. The key question becomes the significance of increases of 3 to 5°C in surface temperature and of several parts per thousand in salinity on the distribution and character of tropical organisms. Figure 6.3 Simulated surface salinity (%0) with contour interval of 1%0: (a) mid-Cretaceous, minimum 34.5%0; (b) Paleocene, minimum 32.5%0; (c) Eocene, minimum 33.5%0; (d) Miocene, minimum ,<32.5%0; (e) present day, minimum <32.5%0. CLIMATE TOLERANCES OF TROPICAL ORGANISMS Abundant evidence exists demonstrating that climate is a significant limiting factor in the distributions of organisms (e.g., Valentine, 1973; Stanley, 1984a,b). The tropics are generally viewed as an environment in which the physicochemical constraints are not undergoing major changes, resulting in an environment that is limited largely by biological competition. However, many equatorial species are also characterized by narrow environmental tolerances, suggesting that relatively small temperature and salinity changes could result in a substantial biologic response. Stanley (1988) suggests that tropical cooling could result in extinction if the temperature decrease removed the warm climate conditions required by many tropical organisms. In the case of hermatypic coral diver

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What can we expect as global change progresses? Will there be thresholds that trigger sudden shifts in environmental conditions—or that cause catastrophic destruction of life?

Effects of Past Global Change on Life explores what earth scientists are learning about the impact of large-scale environmental changes on ancient life—and how these findings may help us resolve today's environmental controversies.

Leading authorities discuss historical climate trends and what can be learned from the mass extinctions and other critical periods about the rise and fall of plant and animal species in response to global change. The volume develops a picture of how environmental change has closed some evolutionary doors while opening others—including profound effects on the early members of the human family.

An expert panel offers specific recommendations on expanding research and improving investigative tools—and targets historical periods and geological and biological patterns with the most promise of shedding light on future developments.

This readable and informative book will be of special interest to professionals in the earth sciences and the environmental community as well as concerned policymakers.

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