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Ecological Impacts of Climate Change Collection 2015-2016

How climate change affects the structure and function of ecosystems—past, present, and future–is a well-represented topic in PLOS publications for 2015-2016. The following, highlighted articles constitute the PLOS Ecological Impacts of Climate Change Collection and include a small sample of the work authors from both PLOS One and PLOS Biology have contributed towards better understanding our changing planet.


The collection was started in 2013 by PLOS Academic Editor, Ben Bond-Lamberty to reflect the broad diversity of climate change informed research in PLOS publications. The collection is divided into subsections:  climate impacts on oceans, assessments of large-scale vulnerability, pests and disturbance, soils in a warming world, management and conservation, climate impacts on animals, and learning from the past.

Credit: (Clockwise from top): William Warby. Thomas Vignaud. PLOS Biology. 2011. 9(4). Colombi et al. PLOS ONE. 2013. Soto-Azat et al. PLOS ONE. 2013.

Large-scale vulnerability assessments

The amount and variability of cloud cover can affect ecological patterns in profound ways, as shown by Wilson & Jetz, who used satellite data of cloud cover variability to improve predictions of biome distributions, rainfall seasonality, global biodiversity hotspots, and even individual species distributions. Takemoto & Kajihara examine the effects of climate change and human activities on the structure of food webs and ecosystem networks, finding that nestedness and modularity were globally impacted by climate change and human activity, as well as by current climate.


By incorporating human activity and demographics into forecasting fire probabilities, Mann et al. show reductions in model uncertainty and highlight the human contribution to the increased prevalence and occurrence of wildfires. Ernst & Buddle examine large scale macroecological patterns of beetle diversity and test their underlying mechanisms.  Wilson et al. show a discrepancy in the published biodiversity literature biased towards more developed nations such as the US over countries of graver concern and highlight the need to conduct more adequate research in the most biodiverse areas of the globe to ensure our capacity to manage and preserve our natural ecosystems.

Blog post: Is Biodiversity Research Biased? Posted April 11, 2016 by Jeff Atkins 

Blog post: Playing with matches: Incorporating human activity into wildfire forecasting Posted May 12, 2016 by Jeff Atkins

Blog post: Remotely-sensed cloud cover predicts biodiversity & climate change vulnerability Post April 15, 2016 by Sasha Wright 

Biodiversity hotspots based on cloud cover data. Lower intra and inter-annual variability may indicate potential for biodiversity refugia. From Wilson & Jetz (2016).
Biodiversity hotspots based on cloud cover data. Lower intra and inter-annual variability may indicate potential for biodiversity refugia. From Wilson & Jetz (2016).

Pests and Disturbance

Many farmers in developing areas may be subject to differentially adverse impacts of climate change due to the severity of projected impacts in those regions. Biber-Freundenberger et al. examine habitat suitability of pest species in Africa under changing climate scenarios to examine future risks under a changing climate conditions.


Soils in a Warming World

Deforestation contributes to climate change by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and altering surface air temperatures. Longobardi et al. use a global climate model to look at the effects of removing from 5% to 100% of forested areas at high, mid, and low latitudes. The results reveal complex interactions between soil carbon dynamics and other climate subsystems in response to different degrees of deforestation at various latitudes. Liebersgesell et al. compare functional diversity of gymnosperms and angiosperms between Europe and North America and find greater functional diversity of angiosperms in Europe (contrary to expectations), likely due to high functional redundancy at local scales. Reductions in maize yield in Iowa are projected by Xu et al. due to climatic forcings. Shinneman et al. use mitochondrial DNA analysis to find substantial genetic variation in the spatial distribution of populations of ponderosa pine in the western United States, tied to climatic variables.


Climate Impacts: Oceans

While many studies have shown how climate change decreases calcification and stability in coral reefs through higher ocean temperatures that result in ocean acidification, Kaniewska et al. model how climate change also affects photosynthesis and respiration in coral symbionts, to examine the potential the change in energy demand in these systems.


Climate Impacts: Animals

Using radio-collar location data, Rode et al. observed how female polar bears responded to sea-ice loss in the Chukchi Sea from 1986–1995 and 2008–2013–periods of substantial sea ice loss–finding that the mean time on land per bear increased by 30 days over that time.
_89221893_moose_tape Tape et al. look at how increased shrub expansion and greening in the Arctic has affected moose and snowshoe hare, who have changed their distributions in response to vegetation change.

[Note: read the redditscience “Ask me Anything” discussion with Ken Tape about “Range Expansion of Moose in Arctic Alaska Linked to Warming and Increased Shrub Habitat” recorded for PLOS Science Wednesday on August 3, 2016.]

Langham et al. used two detailed and comprehensive datasets of world vertebrates, along with modeling, to assess the geographic range shifts for 588 North American bird species under a range of different climate scenarios through the end of the century and projected that over 300 species will lose more than half their current range across three scenarios of climate change. For some birds, this loss is coupled with the potential to colonize new replacement ranges, but not all species will have this option.


Learning from the Past

Using geochemical and fossil evidence from the period of global warming at the end of the last ice age to reconstruct the depth and extent of ocean areas with dissolved oxygen below those necessary for most organisms to function, Moffitt et al. show that warming was associated with increases in the extent of hypoxic zones, and that these zones also intruded further toward the surface of the oceans near continental margins, areas with high species density and diversity. The results provide an example of how oceans may respond as the climate warms under current global warming scenarios.

Blog Post: Ice ages and suffocating ocean zones: reconstructing past oxygen minimums with an eye to the future Posted February 8, 2016 by Jens Hegg

Figure of proxies used to reconstruct oxygen levels in the ice age ocean.
This graphic from Moffitt et al. 2015 shows the multiple chemical, physical and biological proxies that were used to reconstruct the oxygen levels in ice age ocean waters.

Management and Conservation

The size and connectivity of patches on the landscape are thought to be positive indicators of habitat quality, however Su et al. find a negative relationship between these factors and insect species richness in Beijing and rather indicate that higher rates of vegetation cover show more positive correlations. Griebel et al. look at how hybridization in Daphnia is affected by extreme environments.


Waldén & Lindborg look at how restoration of semi-natural grasslands in Sweden can contribute to biodiversity and conservation goals, while also considering if species richness is a good estimator of restoration success. Finding that bumblebees are more effective pollinators of peach trees, Zhang et al. argue that we should diversify our suite of pollinators


Blog Post: Life as a Bird – biodiversity management in New York City Posted January 27, 2016 by Sasha Wright

Blog post: Restoring what was lost: semi-natural grassland habitat restoration in Sweden Posted May 31, 2016 by Sasha Wright

Guest Blog post: Where have all the flowers gone: complexity & worldwide bee declines by Nicole Miller-Struttmann

Open space parcels in New York City, derived from New York City Landcover 2010 (3ft version). Created by the author (TNC New York).
Open space parcels in New York City, derived from New York City Landcover 2010 (3ft version). Created by Sasha Wright (TNC New York).

The broad range of papers within this Collection emphasize not only the multi-faceted impacts of climate change on ecological and human systems, but also the breadth and depth of research on these subjects being reported in PLOS journals.


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