Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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3.3. Terrestrial and Freshwater Ecosystems

Vegetation modeling studies continue to show the potential for significant disruption of ecosystems under climate change (high confidence6). Migration of ecosystems or biomes as discrete units is unlikely to occur; instead at a given site, species composition and dominance will change. The results of these changes will lag behind the changes in climate by years to decades to centuries (high confidence6). [4.3]

Distributions, population sizes, population density, and behavior of wildlife have been, and will continue to be, affected directly by changes in global or regional climate and indirectly through changes in vegetation. Climate change will lead to poleward movement of the boundaries of freshwater fish distributions along with loss of habitat for cold- and cool-water fishes and gain in habitat for warm-water fishes (high confidence6). Many species and populations are already at high risk, and are expected to be placed at greater risk by the synergy between climate change rendering portions of current habitat unsuitable for many species, and land-use change fragmenting habitats and raising obstacles to species migration. Without appropriate management, these pressures will cause some species currently classified as "critically endangered" to become extinct and the majority of those labeled "endangered or vulnerable" to become rarer, and thereby closer to extinction, in the 21st century (high confidence6). [4.3]

Possible adaptation methods to reduce risks to species could include: 1) establishment of refuges, parks, and reserves with corridors to allow migration of species, and 2) use of captive breeding and translocation. However, these options may have limitations due to costs. [4.3]

Terrestrial ecosystems appear to be storing increasing amounts of carbon. At the time of the SAR, this was largely attributed to increasing plant productivity because of the interaction between elevated CO2 concentration, increasing temperatures, and soil moisture changes. Recent results confirm that productivity gains are occurring but suggest that they are smaller under field conditions than indicated by plant-pot experiments (medium confidence6). Hence, the terrestrial uptake may be due more to change in uses and management of land than to the direct effects of elevated CO2 and climate. The degree to which terrestrial ecosystems continue to be net sinks for carbon is uncertain due to the complex interactions between the factors mentioned above (e.g., arctic terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands may act as both sources and sinks) (medium confidence6). [4.3]

Contrary to the SAR, global timber market studies that include adaptations through land and product management, even without forestry projects that increase the capture and storage of carbon, suggest that a small amount of climate change would increase global timber supply and enhance existing market trends towards rising market share in developing countries (medium confidence6). Consumers may benefit from lower timber prices while producers may gain or lose depending on regional changes in timber productivity and potential dieback effects. [4.3]

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