Graham Bell- Climate Change and Evolution of Ecosystems and Species

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.

3 Responses to “Graham Bell- Climate Change and Evolution of Ecosystems and Species”

  1. guesswho says:

    It seems that the conference was pretty interesting ! Speaking about the way alien species deal with climate change, here is a little example. In an article I just read, it mentions that biologists are expecting the common reed to become an even stronger invader than it already is, because the specie has a good response to increases in CO2 concentrations. Common reed is already a strong invader, present in almost all biomes and continents (except Antarctica !). Moreover, it is super difficult to control this species. One of the only thing that could possibly work is to use herbicides. But the operation needs to be repeated each three years! So, imagine for a moment what it could be if CO2 concentrations reach 750 ppm …

  2. sieber says:

    And in the short term we have to worry about the environmental damage from the spraying we have to do on increasingly pesticide-resistant reeds.

  3. supernova says:

    Pesticide-resistant reeds is one one face the medal. Very few pestcides used to control invasive species are specie-specific which means that the pesticide will also affect non-invasive species. Futhermore, that chemical also might have unknown effect on the fauna which feed on the plants. Since controling that invasive species is already very difficult (the complexe rizome system makes it impossible to burn or to manually remove those damned things, as for multiple technics, the plant seems to be well adapted with a fastgrowth-fastrecovery developpement), rises in CO2 is even more alarming since it would probably provide an evolutive advantage to that specie. We know that wetland (which are now being invaded be the reed) are a source of inimagibly rich biodiversity and also provide ecological services (water filtration, erosion prevention, carbon sequestration). Knowing that, i have a hard time banning the use of herbicide even though it is not the best solution. I think it should be used as a transitorial solution until we find a better one. But i believe that if nothing is done to stop the progression of that plant, there wont be anything to save whence we get to that solution.