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Climate Change vs. Urbanization: Which is the Greater Threat to the Longleaf Pine Ecosystems of the Southeastern USA?

Paper Reviewed
Costanza, J.K., Terando, A.J., McKerrow, A.J. and Collazo, J.A. 2015. Modeling climate change, urbanization, and fire effects on Pinus palustris ecosystems of the southeastern U.S. Journal of Environmental Management 151: 186-199.

Introducing their intriguing study of critically endangered longleaf pine ecosystems of the southeastern U.S., Costanza et al. (2015) write that understanding how these ecosystems will respond to future anthropogenic drivers such as climate change "is critical to management for resilience and sustainability," citing the studies of Millar and Woolfenden (1999) and Stein et al. (2013), while adding that "in ecosystems in which wildfire is a fundamental process, knowing how climate change could alter future wildfire regimes is key to developing conservation and management strategies that promote persistence over time and space," citing Stephens et al. (2013). And in light of these observations, they go on to investigate how a rapidly warming and urbanizing world of the future might affect the critically endangered longleaf pine ecosystems of the southeastern U.S.

Interestingly, the four U.S. researchers say that the results they obtained from a simulation model with prescribed burning and urban growth "show that while climatic warming had little effect on the wildfire regime, and thus on longleaf pine dynamics, urban growth led to an 8% reduction in annual wildfire area," with the ultimate result that the various management scenarios they tested increased the ecosystem's total extent by up to 62% and resulted in the areal expansion of open-canopy longleaf pine ecosystems by as much as 216%, demonstrating, as they conclude, "the importance of accounting for multiple relevant anthropogenic threats in an ecosystem-specific context," of which speculative anthropogenic-induced climate change was not one.

Millar, C.I. and Woolfenden, W.B. 1999. The role of climate change in interpreting historical variability. Ecological Applications 9: 1207-1216.

Stein, B.A., Staudt, A., Cross, M.S., Dubois, N.S., Enquist, C. Griffis, R., Hansen, L.J., Hellmann, J.J., Lawler, J.J., Nelson, E.J. and Pairis, A. 2013. Preparing for and managing change: climate adaptation for biodiversity and ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 502-510.

Posted 26 June 2015