Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Do Ecologists Study Climate Change Adaptation?

In this article, researchers go to Arizona and count the types and quantities of creatures in different geographical areas before and after there is "complete water loss".   Now, unlike social scientists they do not collect longitudinal data to track a specific creature (such as Matt Kahn) over time to see where I migrate to or if I just die from drought conditions.  Instead, they create indices of "species richness".

At the end of their article, they posit some optimism due to selection effects.

"Eventually, sensitive species such as the top predator A. herberti could be regionally extirpated, resulting in a
simplified and depauperate regional species pool. Ironically, these new local communities may then be more resilient to climatic and anthropogenic disturbances than the original communities, as all sensitive species will have been extirpated leaving only the most tolerant and resilient species (Côté & Darling, 2010)."

To my readers who are economists, doesn't that sound like comparative advantage?  Doesn't that sound like Climatopolis?   I must admit that I don't fully understand what are the "big implications" if the predators are knocked off by this climate change.  Do they only suffer or does this trigger additional problems as the creatures they used to eat thrive in our hotter future?

It is interesting to compare their actual research paper with the "hot press release" about it.  It appears to me that OSU's public relations team is playing up the "panic" piece of this study.   Climate scientists would be less likely to be accused of being "Chicken Littles"  if they present their results but are careful to not overplay them.

1 comment :

Jeff said...

"Doesn't that sound like comparative advantage?"

Not to me ... Comparative advantage says that even if another agent (insect?) is better at everything than you are, it is still worth it to trade with one another because there is some activity for which you have the lowest opportunity cost. Specialization leads to overall gains from trade.

In the Arizona case, it doesn't seem like the animals are trading according to lowest opportunity cost.

To the extent that there is a specialization story here, it sounds like some species are TOO specialized to the historical environment.

The climate changed faster than their species was able to adapt.