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Inside the Greenhouse

Ecosystem Function Sensitivity Analysis Activities


The goal of the Ecosystem Sensitivity Analysis activity is to investigate the relative magnitude of various causes of environmental change in order to better understand the relation between changing ecosystem functions and the priorities of ecosystem science portfolio. This project will address issues such as factors (natural and anthropogenic) influencing the function of ecosystems, how research priorities compare to the known importance of various impacts on ecosystem function. We hope to use the results of the sensitivity analysis to quantify the relative significance of various causes of impacts on ecosystem function.


Our strategy involves evaluation of the anticipated impact on ecosystem function to provide information about the relative sensitivity of impacts on various causal factors. In the first 18 months of the project, we propose to

  1. Conduct literature reviews and interviews of the experts to explain the predicted impacts of climate change on ecosystem functions. Potential ecosystems to focus on may include Western U.S. forests, tropical forests, marine and coastal systems such as coral reefs, and grasslands or shrublands.

  2. Review literatures and expert interviews on other factors of impacts including both natural ecosystem processes and anthropogenic drivers such as land use and land management.

  3. Select model ecosystems, based on reviews and interviews, for which the science and theory are developed enough to compare pressures of climate change to other drivers of change.

  4. Work with a graduate student to conduct an initial analysis based on the literature review and refine it to focus on identifying and understanding strong signals of causality that can help guide future research.

  5. Identify a panel of experts on selected ecosystems to participate in and refine the sensitivity analysis. The panelists will meet at least twice, to help map out the relevant set of impacts and causal relations and to review our results and suggest improvements to our methods, if needed.


We are currently working to characterize the various stressors on coral reef ecosystems, including ocean acidity, temperature, siltation, nutrient inputs, fishing practices, and others. Upon completing an initial characterization, we will host a series of expert workshops to vet and refine our stressor summaries. We hope to host the first workshop in conjunction with the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, to be held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in July, 2008 in order to take advantage of the considerable expertise that will assemble at that event.

By the end of the project, we will have a clear comparison and assessment of existing quantitative and qualitative predictions and observations of the multiple causes of impacts on ecosystem functions, in order to identify strong causal links. These results will contribute to the evaluation of current priorities in environmental research and the design of a supply-and-demand reconciliation exercise for decision-making on ecosystem management.



For more information, contact Lori Hidinger or Dan Sarewitz.