Background

It is now clear that 22nd century ecosystems will be drastically different from what we know today: up to 39% of the Earth’s surface may experience new climates by 2100. In the face of such rapid and unprecedented change, we need all possible information how to mitigate and adapt to changes,  It is possible that Earth’s climate is heading into a climate regime that was last realized more than 30 million years ago. We need to know how ecological systems functioned in such extreme conditions.

For example, we need to know how ecological systems turnover in the face of long-term trending climate change, and if functional diversity remains constant through time or ecological systems collapse due to a loss of functional diversity. To move away from species identities and toward how ecological systems function, we utilize a community level functional trait-based approach known as ecometrics. Ecometrics is an approach that uses the traits-environment relationship to diagnose past environments.

Ecometrics allows for comparisons of ecological systems across space and through time, because it is focused at the community level. Thus, communities with different compositions may be compared. This is an important and timely approach to develop, because with our changing climate will come changing communities. Importantly, this approach can be used across different scales of space and time. previously, iCCB has brought together working groups of ecologists, palaeontologists, climate modellers, and conservation biologists to address the issue of integration.  A trait-based, community approach emerged from these discussions. In the last phase we concentrated on developing modeling approaches around it and integrating the modern and fossil data. The next phase of iCCB is to bring this integration to conclusion and including policymakers to our program to develop a new program, based on the iCCB initiative.

History

The iCCB began in 2007 when Mikael Fortelius, Christoph Scheidegger, and Nils Stenseth saw the need for integrating data from conservation biology, ecology, and paleontology to help interpret the patterns, processes, and possible outcomes of anthropogenic climate change. A wealth of data now exists on biotic changes that occurred over the last one to two decades: rates of expansion and contractions of species ranges, rates of extinction, changes in standing diversity, invasions of new species into existing ecosystems. Lots of biotic change has coincided with the now-measurable effects of anthropogenic climate change, but scientific understanding of the processes involved, the magnitude of the changes, and their likely outcomes is still in its infancy, largely due to the lack of long-term baselines against which to compare these data. Such baseline data are available from long-term ecological studies and the even longer-term data provided by paleontology, but the temporal and spatial scales at which climate change biologists, ecologists, and paleontologists work are so different that integration has been a hurdle.

In its first three years, iCCB brought together three working groups of ecologists, palaeontologists, climate modellers, and conservation biologists to address the issue of integration. A trait-based, community approach emerged from these discussions, as did a series of working groups to address questions using this approach.  In the next phase the iCCB will concentrate on disseminating this approach through outreach aimed at researchers and university students around the world via web and strategically chosen conference symposia, through sharing of trait-based data to facilitate new research in this area, and through original research by iCCB working groups.