New work on climate change

James Cook University researchers have been part of a huge international study that will help predict the effect of climate change.

JCU’s Dr Jamie Cleverly was one of the authors of a study published in the prestigious journal Nature this week. She said scientists knew there were trade-offs between plant traits, representing different ecological strategies.

She said the ecosystem functions of plants – the movement of energy, nutrients and organic matter through the environment – depend on environmental conditions and the traits of species.

“But, the variation of ecosystem functions were largely unknown, which limited our understanding of how ecosystems respond as a whole to anthropogenic drivers, climate and environmental variability,” said Dr Cleverly.

The scientists found more than 70 per cent of the variability within plant ecosystem functions is captured by three key sets of factors

“The first set reflects maximum ecosystem productivity and is mostly explained by vegetation structure. The second reflects ecosystem water-use strategies and is jointly explained by variation in vegetation height and climate. The third represents the balance between ecosystem carbon uptake and emissions and is explained primarily by variation in vegetation structure,” said Dr Cleverly.

She said this allows the overall functioning of terrestrial ecosystems to be summarised and offers a way towards a measure of ecosystem functions as a whole.

“This is crucial for predicting the responses of ecosystems to climate and environmental variability, including extreme events like drought, heatwave and bushfire, as well as biodiversity losses,” said Dr Cleverly.

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