All Climate Change is Local: Understanding and Predicting the Effects of Climate Change from an Organism’s Point of View

Brian Helmuth, Lauren Yamane, Katharine J. Mach, Shilpi Chhotray, Phil Levin, Sarah Woodin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global climate change is exerting profound effects on organisms and ecosystems. As resource managers and policymakers must contend with the ongoing and future effects of global climate change, they challenge scientists to predict where, when, and with what magnitude these effects are most likely to occur. By understanding the processes by which human-managed and natural ecosystems respond to a changing climate, and by quantifying levels of confidence in our ability to predict these effects, we may be able to prepare for some of these impacts, a form of adaptation to climate change. Here, we describe how knowledge of physiology can help to inform management decisions. Because physiological tolerance to environmental factors varies between species, there will likely be “winners” and “losers” in the face of climate change. We explore how a failure to consider the details of an organism’s physiology and ecology can hamper efforts to respond proactively to climate change and, conversely, how an understanding of how nonhuman organisms interact with their environment can help to provide a framework for anticipating and preparing for future changes in natural and managed ecosystems. We examine some of the physiological responses of marine organisms to climate change in three examples: thermal stress in marine invertebrates, ramifications of water temperature changes on fish bioenergetics and thus on fish reproduction and growth, and effects of changes in wave forces on damage to corals and kelp. Because factors such as temperature interact with other stressors like overexploitation and pollution to drive patterns of mortality, it may be possible to prevent some damage by reducing the impact of stressors not related to climate change. Methods such as ecological forecasting and the utilization of bioenergetic budgets can be used to help guide future adaptation to climate change by providing forecasts within a probabilistic framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-35
Number of pages18
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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