Human well-being is strongly linked to the biodiversity and functioning of the Earth's ecosystems. To maintain biodiversity and enable future generations to derive the same benefits our planet now provides us with, consolidated policy and management efforts are needed. The findings of the EcoChange project could be instrumental in this endeavour.
© Fotolia, 2013
If climate extremes such as the significantly hot and dry summer throughout Europe in 2003 occur more frequently, they can have a severe impact on the periodic biological phenomena such as productivity, mortality and distribution of species. For example, scots pine forests have been dominant in dry Alpine regions but have undergone severe diebacks over the past 10-20 years at lower altitudes. The species has largely disappeared from low altitude locations in Central Alpine valleys; it is now being replaced by oaks. A regional study in Austria has also shown that the area potentially invaded by the black locust tree originally native to North American temperate hardwood forests but now thriving in many different habitats within Europe – will increase considerably under a warmer climate and following human land-use change.
Generated from five years of integrated research across Europe, the findings of the EcoChange project provide policymakers and land managers concerned with land-use and conservation planning with current in-depth data and future scenarios of change. The results will underpin the design of sustainable conservation strategies by highlighting the most likely effects on biodiversity and ecosystems of current and future global environmental change.
EcoChange was an integrated project with 23 partner institutions from 15 European countries – its consortium being led by France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Grenoble – which was implemented from January 2007 until March 2012. The European Union (EU) contribution to the project budget from the 6th Research Framework Programme was €7 million.
Climate, economic and land-use change scenarios for the next century have been developed. A particularly strong emphasis has been placed within EcoChange project to estimate a wide array of model uncertainties, which still too often hamper the precision of climate and ecological forecasts, and to strongly reduce this uncertainty in the project team´s own modelling approaches.
For the first time in scientific history, EcoChange was able to distinguish to the genus or even species level locally in the Siberian and U.S. Arctic 66 species out of all 175 biological groups could be identified – the entire above-ground palaeoflora of the last glacial-interglacial cycle of the Quaternary, of which the remains are conserved in permafrost soils. The project´s finding allows scientists to make a reconstruction of the past vegetation and climate and assists in improving model projections of future climate change to the next 80 – 100 years. Based on these results economic and land use scenarios for the next century could be developed.
Another result concerns the establishment of historical migration rates for 72 key plant species of important so-called plant functional types, which can be more intensively explored in the future for a practical approach to choose vegetation (e.g. forest tree species) that is best adapted to climate change conditions.
Simply said: it was not possible to achieve these results without the research efforts of all European partners involved in the project. One country alone could hardly design a true European-level strategy for biodiversity and functioning of the Earth's ecosystems.