finding 23.3 : key-message-23-3

Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are being directly and indirectly altered by climate change (likely, high confidence). Some species can adapt to extreme droughts, unprecedented floods, and wildfires from a changing climate, while others cannot, resulting in significant impacts to both services and people living in these ecosystems (likely, high confidence). Landscape-scale ecological services will increase the resilience of the most vulnerable species.



This finding is from chapter 23 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

The initial Southern Great Plains author team was selected such that expertise from each of the states’ officially recognized climate offices in the region (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) were included. The offices of the state climatologist in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are each members of the American Association of State Climatologists, which is the recognized professional scientific organization for climate expertise at the state level.

One representative from each of several regional hubs of national and regional climate expertise was included on the author team. These regional hubs include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Plains Climate Hub (El Reno, Oklahoma), the U.S. Department of the Interior’s South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (Norman, Oklahoma), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (Norman, Oklahoma).

After assessing the areas of expertise of the six authors selected from the state and regional centers, a gap analysis was conducted to prioritize areas of expertise that were missing. Due to the importance of the sovereign tribal nations to the Southern Great Plains, an accomplished scholar with expertise in Indigenous knowledge on the environment and climate change was selected from the premier tribal university in the United States, Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. An individual from the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin was selected to bring expertise on the complex intersection of coupled atmosphere–land–ocean systems, climate, and humans (population and urbanization). Expertise in the electric utility industry was gained through the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives by an individual with a long history of working with rural and urban populations and with researchers and forecasters in weather and climate.

The author group decided to allow Southern Great Plains stakeholders to drive additional priorities. On March 2, 2017, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Southern Great Plains chapter team held a Regional Engagement Workshop at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, with a satellite location in Austin, Texas, that allowed a number of stakeholders to participate virtually. The objective of the workshop was to gather input from a diverse array of stakeholders throughout the Southern Great Plains to help inform the writing and development of the report and to raise awareness of the process and timeline for NCA4. Stakeholders from meteorology, climatology, tribes, agriculture, electric utilities, water resources, Bureau of Land Management, ecosystems, landscape cooperatives, and transportation from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were represented. The productive dialog at this workshop identified important gaps in environmental economics, ecosystems, and health. Scientists working at the cutting edge of research in these three areas were selected: an ecosystems expert from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, an environmental economist from the department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma, and health experts from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Aspen Global Change Institute.

This diverse collection of medical doctors, academics, researchers, scientists, and practitioners from both federal and state agencies gives the Southern Great Plains chapter a wealth of expertise across the many ways in which climate change will affect people in the region.

Description of evidence base:

This Key Message was developed through technical discussions developed within science teams and collaborators of the Gulf Coast and Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. Species’ response to climate change is complex and variable;506759aa-765f-4007-a678-17d69d139e39 this complexity necessitates a multifaceted review of the projected impacts of climate change. In addition, ecosystem services also require assessment, given the impact of climate change on their ability to deliver materials and processes that benefit people.c3b02b08-e555-4a41-8a73-8b04dc89ee6b

The following relevant areas of evidence regarding climate change impacts on ecosystems in the Southern Great Plains were therefore considered: species, aquatic ecosystems, coastal bays and estuaries, and risk management. It is unclear how climate change will affect species directly, but the effects of increased aridity will likely have negative impacts (e.g., NFWPCAP 2012c3b02b08-e555-4a41-8a73-8b04dc89ee6b). Species migration (e.g., Schmandt 2011373310ba-0499-4640-8a23-211736f3b32d) and mortality (e.g., Moore et al 2016f1380bfc-e39d-43d9-87d6-dfcff35fa7fb) will increase in response to climate change. Climate change impacts to aquatic ecosystems include higher water temperatures in lakes, wetlands, rivers, and estuaries, while impacts to reservoirs include fluctuating lake levels, loss of habitat, loss of recreational access, increase in harmful algal blooms, and disconnectedness from upstream and downstream riverine habitat.9bff2ebb-6418-481a-bad9-b8c29875286e Sea level rise will impact coastal bays and estuaries via more frequent and longer-lasting flooding of marshes,373310ba-0499-4640-8a23-211736f3b32d,ca37b8ae-5f68-4565-9263-16d686e44304 while higher tides and storm surges cause inundation of freshwater areas and beach erosion, leading to a potential decrease or loss of barrier islands and coastal habitats, including nesting habitats and submerged habitats such as seagrass beds affected by changes in water quality and changing water depths.d3cfeb46-ecbd-4e44-b9b5-735d3e827f50 Other ecosystem-centered impacts include surface and groundwater depletion (e.g., Perkin et al. 2017c1cd03d9-d9dc-4251-a762-841fb9c17a92) and changes in migratory species pathways.21ed9792-3f12-4546-9f73-6ebf3b7df711

New information and remaining uncertainties:

Ecosystems and the species that exist in these ecosystems have experienced a rapid decline in many “common species” as well as certain rare species.c3b02b08-e555-4a41-8a73-8b04dc89ee6b,dd3ca065-3328-4db8-8001-5dbfba4cea40,35894126-7a24-4180-b8fa-6099fe023548 Increases in many nonnative species have led to both concern and opportunity. Continued habitat and population shifts and the impact of interactions between people, other resources, and available habitat stressors are vague. Indirect impacts to livestock and agricultural systems are also unknown. The likelihood of animal and plant diseases and parasites impacting commercial production and the interaction with wild species is anticipated but uncertain.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

There is high confidence that rising temperatures and increases in flooding, runoff events, and aridity will likely lead to changes in the aquatic and terrestrial habitats supporting many regional species. Flooding has changed the complexity of many riparian habitats. Increases already seen in extreme drought occurrence have caused downturns in the fish- and wildlife-related industries, with losses in traditional fish (crab and oysters) and wildlife species (waterfowl) important for both recreational and commercial purposes.

In contrast, habitat created by invasive species due to climate change has improved populations of other species including fungi. The expanded stress due to a rapidly growing population in this region increases the likelihood (high confidence) of negative natural resource and ecosystems outcomes in the future.

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