Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about global warming. But temperatures have been changing since the beginning of time, so what’s the big deal? Two things make this period of warming special. First, the warming is almost entirely due to the actions of people. Second, the warming is happening extremely fast; in fact, the warming continues to accelerate even though Earth hasn’t been this warm for a million years.
The impacts of global warming have already been felt by plants and animals everywhere. Species have moved northward in latitude and upward in altitude. Organisms begin their activities earlier each spring and end them later each fall. These shifts over space and time have altered the interactions among species, leading to losses of biodiversity. Since humans have done nothing to reverse the actions that are causing global warming, the consequences should magnify in the coming decades.
Can we predict the fate of each species? At the moment, the answer is a resounding “No”. Like many other biologists, we are hoping to make prediction a reality. This goal is not trivial. Predicting how a species will respond to climate change requires knowledge of behavior, physiology, genetics, ecology, and evolution. In short, the problem ranks among the most complex ones that biologists can pursue. Yet the unprecedented changes in climate demand our attention if we are to preserve biodiversity.
We are currently working on two parts of this problem. The first part requires us to convert macroclimates to microclimates. Climatologists predict climates on the scale of kilometers but organisms live on the scale of meters. Therefore, we must downscale climates before we can begin to consider their impacts.The second part requires us to connect microclimates to fitness. This part relies on detailed knowledge of behavior, growth, and reproduction under different conditions. Both parts are made possible by access to super computers, which can weed through masses of data and churn out countless calculations. Once these parts are in place, we can ask whether populations will adapt to the climates that will come.
This research involves a large team of collaborators who complement our interests and expertise. These collaborations have been sponsored by the the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Climate Change Research, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.
Want to learn more? Read our recent publications about climate change:
Telemeco, R., B. Fletcher, O. Levy, A. Riley, Y. Rodriguez-Sanchez, C. D. Smith, C. Teague, A. Waters, M. J. Angilletta, and L. B. Buckley. Lizards fail to plastically adjust nesting behavior or thermal tolerance as needed to buffer populations from climate change. Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13476.
Levy, O., L. B. Buckley, T. H. Keitt, and M. J. Angilletta. 2016. Ontogeny constrains phenology: opportunities for activity and reproduction interact to dictate potential phenologies in a changing climate. Ecology Letters DOI: 10.1111/ele.12595.
Ackley, J., M J. Angilletta, D. DeNardo, S. Myint, B. Sullivan, and J. Wu. Rich lizards: how affluence and land cover influence the diversity and abundance of native lizards persisting in an urban landscape. Biological Conservation 182: 87-92.
Buckley, L. B., J. C. Ehrenberger, and M. J. Angilletta. 2015. Thermoregulatory behavior limits local adaptation of thermal niches and confers sensitivity to climate change. Functional Ecology 29: 1038-1047.
Levy, O., L. B. Buckley, T. H. Keitt, C. D. Smith, K. Boateng, D. Kumar, and M. J. Angilletta. 2015. Resolving the life cycle alters expected impacts of climate change. Proceeding of the Royal Society B 282: 20150837.
Heffernan, J. B., P. Soranno, M. J. Angilletta, L. B. Buckley, W. K. Dodds, D. Gruner, T. Keitt, J. Kellner, J. Kominoski, A. Rocha, J. Xiao, T. Harms, S. Goring, L. Koenig, W. McDowell, H. Powell, A. Richardson, C. Stow, R. Vargas, and K. Weathers. 2014. Macrosystems ecology: understanding ecological pattern and process at continental scales. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12:5-14.