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Scientists identify the 13 most important research challenges to face global change in the Mediterranean region

Date:
February 10, 2015
Source:
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Summary:
Scientists consider it key to understand why droughts kill so many trees and the influence of local forest histories on tree mortality. They also warn that we know very little about the joined effects of different disturbances on each ecosystem, and highlight the necessity to plan research projects covering more time and space.
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A team of researchers led by CREAF and with the participation of the UAB has identified the 13 most important scientific challenges in making terrestrial Mediterranean ecosystems more resistant to the negative effects of this phenomenon.
Credit: CREAF

Scientists consider it key to understand why droughts kill so many trees and the influence of local forest histories on tree mortality. They also warn that we know very little about the joined effects of different disturbances on each ecosystem, and highlight the necessity to plan research projects covering more time and space.

A multidisciplinary team of 28 researchers (of which 15 were from CREAF) has evaluated scientific progress of the last 16 years in the study of global change in terrestrial Mediterranean ecosystems, and has identified which should be immediate research priorities to make our ecosystems more resistant to the negative effects of this phenomenon.

In the article published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, the authors arrive to the conclusion that science is faced with thirteen challenges and three fundamental considerations which need to be taken into account.

First, they assert that it is no longer sufficient to study different modifications which we provoke in ecosystems (climate change, changes in forest fire regimes, biodiversity loss, etc.) as if there were closed boxes. It is instead necessary invest effort in "understanding how each of these boxes interacts with other boxes," says Enrique Doblas, CREAF researcher. He poses an example: "drought can provoke soil erosion, but the erosion which we are finding cannot be explained if we don't add to this drought all the changes in land use of the last 50 or 60 years."

Second, data gathered on a small scale often generate too much error when we try to use them to predict the effects of global change on a large scale. To deal with this problem, the authors of the article propose improving data exchange networks between researchers, and planning of long-term experiments at the regional or even global scale.

Thirdly, the article insists on the importance of local history of the ecosystem on how it is capable of responding to global change, and especially the ever-increasing effect of droughts. "In the same was that you don't recover from an infection the same way the first or second time that you have it, two ecosystems can seem identical but really not be so in any way due to their personal histories," says Doblas.

The following table shows the list of the 13 scientific challenges organized into umbrella categories of five predominant questions:

  • How does the concurrence of various global change phenomena affect ecosystem function?

1 Understand how the typical mosaic form of the Mediterranean landscape affects forest fire propagation

2 Understand the combined effects of different phenomena comprising global change on biological invasions and the expansion of plagues

3 Understand the interaction between the phenomena comprising global change and most recent forest management practices

  • How can we improve the quality of data gathered on the response of the ecosystem to global change?

4 Obtain more realistic information (at larger spatial and temporal scales) of the impacts of global change on services provided by the ecosystem

5 Improve the assessment of tree mortality associated with climate extremes, with particular interest on drought phenomena.

  • Can we manage ecosystems so that they are more resistant to global change?

6 Identify and manage the areas most vulnerable to global change

7 Use ecosystem functioning and history to study its capacity to return to an initial state following a perturbation (resilience)

8 Open research to other fields to study the importance that genetics could have on this resilience capacity

  • Will we lose services provided by ecosystems if their internal functioning is changed?

9 Study how forest management can improve ecosystems' capacities to store carbon and water in the long term and large scale

10 Analyse how biodiversity changes when the landscape changes

  • Does the same happen in the short term and local scale as in the long term and regional scale?

11 Increase the precision of models of prediction of global change by including the influence of socio-economic context

12 Carry out manipulative and interdisciplinary experiments at different scales to understand the interaction between forests and the atmosphere

13 Improve understanding of how water availability at the landscape scale affects plants' hydraulic systems

13 new challenges which substitute 25 challenges proposed by Sandra Lavorel in 1998

In order to identify these 13 challenges the researchers did not begin from zero; instead, they analysed the degree of satisfaction of challenges posed 16 years ago in a similar article, published in the same journal by the scientist Sandra Lavorel. Of the 25 challenges posed in 1998, nine have been successfully achieved, and only two remain unanswered. The remaining 14 (the majority) have only been answered in part (see following table):

  • What will future fire regimes be like?

1 Predict wildfires based on soil use: Partial

2 Predict wildfires based on climate: Yes

3 Predict wildfires based on the influence of atmospheric composition: No

4 Measure impacts of wildfires on the landscape: Yes

5 Measure impacts of wildfires on vegetation: Partial

6 Measure impacts of wildfires in the context of climate chnage: Yes

7 Measure the impacts of wildfires on ecosystem function: Partial

8 Control wildfires using prevention: Yes

9 Control the effects of wildfires using restoration: Partial

  • How do living beings interact with the atmosphere?

10 Understand how soil use interacts with climate: Partial

11 Understand how physiology of living beings interacts with atmospheric CO2 and the planet's temperature: Partial

12 Understand the interaction between gasses emitted by living beings and the planet's temperature: Partial

13 Understand the interaction between gases emitted by wildfires and the atmosphere: Yes

14 Create models which work with all of the above data: Partial

  • How does water availability affect the landscape?

15 At the small parcel or patch scale, understand how physiology such as leaf surface affects water circulation in plants: Yes

16 At the small parcel or patch scale, understand the hydrologic equilibrium: Partial

17 At the small parcel or patch scale, study how the quantity and quality of water changes with time: Partial

18 At the small parcel or patch scale, create simulation models which work with the above data: No

19 At the landscape scale, make water availability maps: Yes

20 At the landscape scale, check to see if patterns and effects are similar to the small scale: Yes

21 At the landscape scale, study the effects of landscape change on water availability: Yes

22 At the landscape scale, create simulation models which work with the above data: Partial

  • How is biodiversity changing?

23 Understand changes in genetic diversity: Partial

24 Understand changes in species diversity: Partial

25 Understand changes in landscape diversity: Partial

The authors wrote the article in the context of the project MONTES-Consolider (CSD2008-00040), financed by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitively. Participating writers were from CREAF, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Granada, the Centre Tecnològic i Forestal de Catalunya (CTFC), the Museum of Natural Sciences of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), The University of Castilla-La Mancha, the Center for Mediterranean Environmental Studies (CEAM), the University Rey Juan Carlos I, the University of Macquarie (Australia), the Institut de Diagnosi Ambiental i Estudis de l'Aigua (CSIC), and the University Carlos III de Madrid.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Doblas-Miranda, J. Martínez-Vilalta, F. Lloret, A. Álvarez, A. Ávila, F. J. Bonet, L. Brotons, J. Castro, J. Curiel Yuste, M. Díaz, P. Ferrandis, E. García-Hurtado, J. M. Iriondo, T. F. Keenan, J. Latron, J. Llusià, L. Loepfe, M. Mayol, G. Moré, D. Moya, J. Peñuelas, X. Pons, R. Poyatos, J. Sardans, O. Sus, V. R. Vallejo, J. Vayreda, J. Retana. Reassessing global change research priorities in mediterranean terrestrial ecosystems: how far have we come and where do we go from here? Global Ecology and Biogeography, 2015; 24 (1): 25 DOI: 10.1111/geb.12224

Cite This Page:

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. "Scientists identify the 13 most important research challenges to face global change in the Mediterranean region." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150210083701.htm>.
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. (2015, February 10). Scientists identify the 13 most important research challenges to face global change in the Mediterranean region. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150210083701.htm
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. "Scientists identify the 13 most important research challenges to face global change in the Mediterranean region." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150210083701.htm (accessed May 24, 2017).

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