UC Merced Connect: Tracking the impact of climate

August 11, 2013 

— Climate change alters the way species interact with one another — not just today or in the future, but also in the past, according to a review by UC Merced Professor Jessica Blois and colleagues coming out this week in the journal "Science."

"We found that, at all time scales, climate change can alter biotic interactions in highly complex ways. So if we don't incorporate them when we're anticipating future changes, we're missing a big piece of the puzzle," Blois said.

A special issue of "Science," titled "Natural Systems in Changing Climates," features the article and a podcast.

The article and podcast are the work of Blois, one of UC Merced's newest faculty members, along with three colleagues: one from Yale University, one from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and one from the University of California at Berkeley.

They have contributed a paper called "Climate Change and the Past, Present and Future of Biotic Interactions."

"Biodiversity does respond to climate change, and it's a perfectly natural response to past climate change," Blois said. The worry is that the rate of climate change is more than species can handle.

"We are seeing responses in many species," she said, including plants that have never been found before in certain climates — such as species of palms found in Sweden — and in animals moving to higher elevations as their habitats grow too warm for them.

What interests the researchers in this field is how interactions between species change — between predators and prey, or plants and pollinators — and how to translate data into future models.

The article indicates that while much more research is needed, changes can be discerned, though it's harder to get data from the fossil record because complete information about the interactions isn't always available.

Big changes can can be seen at the end of major climate changes, such as the last Ice Age, when large herbivores went extinct.

Without those mega-eaters to keep certain plants at bay, new communities of flora developed, the likes of which we no longer see because there have been many other changes.

"People used to think climate was the major driver of all these changes," Blois said, "but there's a lot of work that indicates it's not just climate. It's also extinction of the megafauna, changes in fire and expansion of humans. It's all linked."

Doctoral student earns faculty post in England

UC Merced alumnus Andreas Kolling, the first student to earn a doctorate at UC Merced in electrical engineering and computer science, has obtained a faculty position at the University of Sheffield in Great Britain.

Kolling came to UC Merced in January 2007 and graduated with his doctorate in 2009. He held postdoctoral positions at the University of Pittsburgh, the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon and Linköping University in Sweden.

Starting this fall, Kolling will work at the University of Sheffield's Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering. He will develop a research program in robotics as well as teach graduate and undergraduate students.

UC Merced Connect is written by the University Communications staff. Contact them at communications@ucmerced.edu.

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