Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Life on Earth is profoundly affected by the planet's climate. Animals, plants, and other living beings are moving, adapting, and in some cases dying as a result of climate change, affecting not only individual species but the ecosystems on which humans depend. At the request of the United States Geological Survey, the National Research Council convened an expert committee to identify examples of ecological impacts of climate change to serve as the basis for an educational booklet for a public audience. This booklet explains, in lay terms, basic scientific concepts about climate change, ecological changes that have already been observed or are anticipated to occur in the near future, and how humans may influence the effects of climate change on ecosystems.

Key Messages

  • Changes in temerature, especially when combined with changes in precipitation, can have indirect effects as well.
  • Changes in temperature affect ecosystem directly. The date when some plants bloom is occuring earlier in response to warmer temperature and earlier springs.
  • Climate change can impact ecosystems in many ways.
  • Climate change is not the only way humans are affecting ecosystems.
  • Currently plants and animals are responding to rapid climate change while simultaneously coping with other human-created stresses such as habitat loss and fragmentation due to development, pollution, invasive species, and overharvesting.
  • Data on ecosystem responses to disturbances in the past can provide valuable information about likely responses to current and future climate change.
  • Earth's ecosystems are generally resilient to some range of changes in climate.
  • Ecosystems can adjust to change-over time.
  • Extreme temperature, both hot and cold, can be important causes of mortality.
  • One of the big concerns about the future is that climate changes in some places may be too fast for organisms to respond in the ways that helped sustain ecosystem services in response to natural changes in past.