IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Species Responses to Changing Climates Across Time and Space: From 55 million years ago to 2100 CE
Climates have changed throughout geological history, providing a series of natural model systems for studying ecological and evolutionary responses to climate change, at timescales ranging from decades to many millions of years. In this talk, Professor Jack Williams will focus upon three periods of climate change that are particularly relevant to global change ecology. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 56.1 million years ago, offers an example of a large and rapid perturbation to and recovery of the global carbon cycle, equivalent to burning all below-ground coal reserves. The biological effects of the PETM varied widely among taxa, with a wave of extinctions in marine foraminifera, large turnover in plant community composition, and evolutionary radiations in mammals. The end of the last ice age, 19,000 to 8,000 years ago, offers a natural system for studying species responses to a 4°C global warming, regionally abrupt climate change, the emergence of climates with no modern analog, and rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In response, species shifted their ranges by 100s of km and reassembled into communities also lacking any modern analog. The Holocene offers an example of enhanced hydrological variability during warming climates, characterized by decadal- to centennial-scale shifts in drought and flood regime and regionally abrupt collapses of tree populations. In all cases, at all timescales, these climate changes had major effects upon the distribution, abundance and diversity of species. Moreover, we can use the past as a testing ground for ecological models, testing their ability to predict ecological dynamics in a rapidly changing and novel world.
Details about Professor Jack Williams
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