On the 11 of September at the Redpath Museum, I attended an environmental seminar about climate change, evolution and ecosystems, given by Dr. Graham Bell, professor and researcher with the Department of Biology, McGill. In his seminar, Dr. Graham Bell explained the possible impacts of anthropogenic driven climate change –warmer temperatures, shifting biomes, increased precipitation, etc.- on the ability of species and ecosystem to adapt, evolve and/or become extinct. Species and ecosystems will, as Bell explains, cope with changes in climate in the following ways; plasticity, dormancy, migration, range shift, adaptation and extinction. I think Bell did a wonderful job at presenting not only the well know examples of species that have gone extinct due to human and climate related changes, but also gave examples of species being able to adapt to climate and anthropogenic stressors: certain plant species adapting to and living with heavy metals in the soils of a contaminated copper mine, moths changing color from mottled white to black to camouflage with black soot covered trees.
Another interesting focus of Bell’s seminar was the three major complications of CO2 for the global environment. 1. Biological diversity: Bell explained how this involves loss of diversity as well as ecological replacement of native species with alien species better suited to the changed climate and ecosystem. There was a point that Bell made here that I strongly liked and agreed with: Bell stated that the more species of any given living thing (butterflies, fish corn, etc.) the more likely it is that one or more species will be able to survive and adapt to climate changes, thus living to evolve into more diversified species once again. This implies the significance of preserving a diversity of species (not just one, mainline species of corn that we use to eat, for example) in order to raise chances of species survival. 2. Ecological complexity: Due to the high complexity and interconnectedness of ecosystems, climate could shift the whole structure of ecosystem community stability, productivity, etc. 3. Evolutionary change: Here, Dr. Graham Bell gave an example of Phytoplankton response to CO2 over many generations, the same research presented in the article we chose for ENVR 650 to read. I think an important point to come from this example, one that Bell mentioned as well- is that while the future impacts of climate change and increased levels of CO2 for ecosystems and species is largely unknown and there needs to need more field research looking into this, there is definitely going to be significant changes in climate and ecosystems that will surely effect the global environment as we know it.
This seminar was, in my opinion, wonderful. Bell has an ability to describe complex issues and environmental systems in a way that anyone can understand and relate to. He presented his arguments in a clear, rational way, always giving evidence for the effects of anthropogenic climate change, but at the same time leaving the audience with both sides of the story (ie. That warming could bring certain benefits, for example higher productivity in agriculture). Above this, he is a captivating speaker, funny and approachable despite his amazing breadth of knowledge. Bell ended with a strong point; that it is not a new phenomenon in the history of the planet for climate to change, but that it is the human driven rate of change that threatens the planet’s delicate ecosystems, ecological processes and species’ adaptability.