Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

Long-Term Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship Technologies

Under the umbrella of the Oxford Long-Term Ecology & Resource Stewardship Lab Dr Marc Macias Fauria has worked on the Ecochange project within the Horizon 2020 research framework. The project focused on how changes in climatic conditions affect ecosystems and how we can protect biodiversity from these.

The following news article has been published on the work.

Climate change: learning from the past to safeguard the future

How much can we really predict about the impact of climate change on groups of animals, plants, and natural habitats? The EU-funded Ecochange project turned to fossil records to investigate how species respond to even minor changes. Scientists can use this research to design ways to protect biodiversity from climate change.

Understanding the scale of the threat from climate change is crucial to being able to create conditions for the broadest possible range of biodiversity to survive. Over the last decade or so, scientists have developed general models to predict the impact on plants, animals and habitats. But the findings have been difficult to validate, and their lack of precision means that the risks and rates of change may have been exaggerated.

The Ecochange project, funded by the European Union under a Marie Curie Fellowship and coordinated by Oxford University, UK, started out with two objectives: to investigate whether palaeoecological data from ancient fossil remains can increase our knowledge of current climate change impacts, and to study specific environments and how they can protect species from hostile climate conditions.

Ecochange used so-called ‘Species Distribution Models’ (SDMs), which link information about the occurrence of species with general environmental data. But to make the models more sensitive to small-scale variations, the researchers added a high-resolution study of the physical characteristics of landscapes.

For example, geologic and geomorphic conditions were found to be just as important as temperatures in regulating the growth of mountain forests, which could be crucial refuges for small wildlife populations. The project set out to identify all the variable factors influencing the impact of past, current and future climate change.

Lessons from the past

To validate the models, and understand the relationship between animals and their environment, the scientists looked to the past. The ‘Quaternary’ fossil record covers the last two million years. Traces of shells, teeth, pollen and seeds reconstruct vanished ecosystems and give clues to how animals and plants lived and died.

“Including species-occurrence data in periods other than the present allows researchers to expand their understanding of the responses that species have had in periods of past climatic changes,” explains Marc Macias Fauria, Ecochange’s Marie Curie Fellow.

This approach was applied to a number of ‘taxa’ (populations of organisms that together form a unit) in woody areas, helping to predict how they might react to future climate and environmental change.

“This study demonstrated that, when carefully selected, palaeoecological data can be used in conjunction with SDMs in order to track and better understand species’ responses to changes in climate even in relatively short time periods,” notes Macias Fauria.

The project has generated a number of spin-offs. The scientists have launched new collaborative studies with Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Norway and UK, creating an expanded, EU-based research network.

“We are examining new questions that deepen the topic and promise high-impact science in the coming years,” says Macias Fauria. This includes research into the effect of reindeer grazing on tundra vegetation, and how this vegetation reacts to temperature change.

Palaeoecological records are emerging as an important resource for conservation and land management policies, as well as the development of strategies for conservation and mitigating climate change. The ideas from the project now form part of an M.Sc. course on SDMs at Oxford University, which is highly appreciated by students.

“I have a PhD student, Henrik Hannemann, with a background in ecology and economics who is using this approach to directly tackle conservation strategies in Europe,” says Macias Fauria.

The original article was published on the Horizon 2020 news website

Latest News

October 26, 2021

Cymru Collaborations

Last weekend Anna Lee-Jones, NERC DPhil student in the OXLEL group, traveled to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) site in Bangor, Wales to discuss an experimentation collaboration with ... Continue reading

June 30, 2021

Government policy and targets insufficient to stem the tide of UK biodiversity loss

Professor Kathy Willis gave oral evidence as an expert witness to the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry into the the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystems in the ... Continue reading

June 11, 2021

Natural capital in the nation’s forests

OxLEL was delighted to host Dr Eleanor Tew as guest speaker at our weekly lab meeting on the 11th of June. Dr Tew is the national Natural Capital and Resilience ... Continue reading

April 19, 2021

New randomised control trial of the smartphone Humbug acoustic monitoring system starting this week in Tanzania

This Friday (23rd April 2021) a randomised controlled trial (RCT) aiming to understand use and uptake of the smartphone HumBug acoustic monitoring system will begin with 148 participants recruited from ... Continue reading

January 30, 2021

Mapping recreational amenity in Europe

Peter Long, Sandra Nogue, David Benz and Kathy Willis recently published a paper in Frontiers in Biogeography demonstating how to map the ecosystem service of outdoor recreation across Europe.  The ... Continue reading