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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Ecohydrological Processes, Scale, Climate Variability, and Watershed Management

Location: Southwest Watershed Research

Title: Climate change's impact on key ecosystem services and the human well-being they support in the US

Authors
item Nelson, E. -
item Kareiva, P. -
item Ruckelshaus, M. -
item Arkema, K. -
item Geller, G. -
item Girvetz, D. -
item Goodrich, David
item Matzek, V. -
item Pinsky, M. -
item Saunders, M. -
item Semmens, D. -
item Tallis, H. -

Submitted to: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 1, 2013
Publication Date: November 1, 2013
Citation: Nelson, E., Kareiva, P., Ruckelshaus, M., Arkema, K., Geller, G., Girvetz, D., Goodrich, D.C., Matzek, V., Pinsky, M., Saunders, M., Semmens, D., Tallis, H. 2013. Climate change's impact on key ecosystem services and the human well-being they support in the US. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 11(9):483-493.

Interpretive Summary: Ecosystems, and the biodiversity and services they support such as providing food, clean water, and clean air, among many, are largely dependent on climate. During the 20th century, climate change has had documented impacts on ecological systems, and these impacts are expected to increase as climate change continues and perhaps even accelerates. This paper synthesizes a body of scientific studies of the way climate change is affecting biodiversity, ecosystems, ecosystem services, and what strategies might be employed to decrease current and future risks. Building on past assessments of how climate change and other stressors are affecting ecosystems in the United States and around the world, we approach the subject from several different perspectives. People experience climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems as changes in ecosystem services; people depend on ecosystems for resources that are harvested, their role in regulating the movement of materials and disturbances, and their recreational, cultural, and aesthetic value. Thus, we review newly emerging research to determine how human activities and a changing climate are likely to alter the delivery of these ecosystem services.

Technical Abstract: Climate change alters the structure and functions of ecological systems and as a result can modify their provision of ecosystem services. Some American communities have already experienced economic hardship due to spatial shifts in fish biomass caused by warming ocean waters. Documented reductions in snowpack and increases in wildfire risk caused by warmer temperatures have curtailed nature-based tourism in parts of the US. Climate models suggest more droughts and extreme weather events will occur across the US in the future. This change will increase the value of regulatory services that help contain fires, dampen storm surge, purify water, and maintain high levels of crop production. A challenge to US society is anticipating the impacts of climate change on ecosystem services and using that foresight to optimize the flow of these services despite climate disruption. Here we discuss some of the key observed and anticipated impacts of climate change on ecosystem service provision in the US and some potential adaptations to climate change-induced stressors on service provision. Because climate change has and will affect so many facets of American society, cost-effective management of climate change’s impacts on US society will require much more coordinated action among American government institutions and regulatory agencies. There is also much adaptive capacity to be gained by offering US land owners financial incentives to enhance or maintain their stocks of natural capital.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
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