Ecosystems and climate change

By Kelsey Smith, Green Events Coordinator

Komar_Vitaly_Melamid_Alex_most_wanted_painting_USA_resampled (1)


Ecosystems produce a rich array of benefits that people depend on and these basic needs for life are at the highest risk of damage due to climate change.  In fact, the resources provided by ecosystems have been so important to our evolution and survival, that we universally recognize aspects of them as beautiful.

Alex Melamid, a Russian painter, asked the question “Are there things that are universally beautiful?”  He conducted a huge survey and found that the majority of people in each country liked the color blue.  They also preferred spring to other seasons and paintings of outdoor scenes with lakes and rivers and forests instead of indoor scenes or those of cities. Specifically, people described these landscapes as having low forking trees, fresh water going into the distance, lush vegetation, and wildlife.  Here is a little clip from a Ted Radio Hour podcast episode that describes their findings:

Minute 9:21 – 10:48 of TED radio hour – Are some things universally beautiful?

Melamid partnered with a scientist to hypothesize why these commonalities were occurring.  They concluded that this is universally beautiful because it is the ideal environment for our evolution.  It is the ecosystem that would most support our survival.  The trees are easy to climb to avoid predators, there is ample drinking water available, the land is mostly flat, so you’re able to view approaching visitors, and there are plenty of plants and animals to feast on.

The National Climate Assessment (NSA) refers to these basic human needs – water, food, and shelter – as ecosystem services.

There are 4 key ways in which climate change is affecting these ecosystem services:

1. Water – Climate change impacts on ecosystems reduce their ability to improve water quality and regulate water flow.

2. Extreme events – The impacts of events like fires, floods, and storms, are becoming harder to buffer due to climate change. The capacity of ecosystems is overwhelmed and is becoming less able to recover from such events.

3. Species and plants –  Many species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction because of the rapid change occurring in landscapes and seascapes. Extinction of these organisms will alter some regions so drastically they will become unrecognizable.

4. Seasonal patterns –  Timing of critical biological events brought on by seasonal patterns, such as spring bud bursting, emerge from overwintering. The start of migration has shifted, leading to important impacts on species and habitats.

The NCA view adaptation as our key tool in overcoming these obstacles.  Adaptation in the context of biodiversity and natural resource management is primarily about managing change.  Change is an inherent property of natural ecosystems. Therefore, whole system management is more effective than focusing on one species or resource at a time.

Want to read more about climate change’s effects on ecosystems? This article is primarily based on the NCA’s 2014 climate change report.  You can read it for free here.
Want to hear more about Alex Melamid? Listen to the rest of the Ted Radio Hour episode linked in the begining of the article.


One thought on “Ecosystems and climate change

  1. Great article and very interesting TED talk. I wonder how our conception of “beautiful space” will change as we continue to adapt to the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s