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Report examines climate change effects on ecosystems


September 23, 2010

Fairbanks, Alaska - A new report now available to the public examines how rapid climate change could affect Alaska's wildlife and ecosystems.

The publication is the culmination of a two-year effort to model future shifts in species and regional ecosystems by scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the UAF Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning and the Ecological Wildlife Habitat Data Analysis for the Land and Seascape. It offers policymakers and the public a practical way to approach the question of climate change effects on Alaska ecosystems.

Researchers prepared models that matched regional ecosystems' seasonal temperature and precipitation with ranges of animal species. They then projected potential shifts within each ecosystem as the climate changes. Results suggest that by 2100, climate conditions in 60 percent of Alaska may have shifted to resemble those associated with a different regional ecosystem. The climate in almost all of western and northwestern coastal Alaska is projected to differ from current conditions. The project also examined potential effects on four species: barren-ground caribou, Alaska marmots, trumpeter swans and reed canary grass.

"Scenarios planning is not intended to produce a single definitive prediction, but rather to provide stakeholders with a range of descriptions of possible futures, in order to better inform risk-taking and decision making," said Nancy Fresco, SNAP coordinator. "Our hope is that this document will serve as a jumping-off point for lively discussion and debate, and will help inform and inspire new research, as well as efforts to ground-truth and validate our models."

The efforts were supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Further work is underway in Alaska and Canada, incorporating new methodology, multiple sources of land-cover data and a wider range of model inputs to improve the analysis of the regional shifts.


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