When scientists attempt to understand how climate change might reshape our environment, they must grapple with the seemingly endless complexity of interacting systems.
For those considering the likely fate of particular species, there is now a relatively simple rule of thumb to help calculate the likely effect of climate change where species interact.
"A lot of the discussion about climate change focuses on the fate of individual, iconic species, but to evaluate the effects of future environmental changes we need to account for interactions between species," James Cook University evolutionary ecologist Tobin Northfield said.
"We need to consider how species co-evolve how they are adapting in response to each other, as well as in response to climate change. In addition, as difficult as it may seem, we need to account for changing interactions, as the species evolve."
Research published this week in PLOS Biology argues that where species have conflicting interests (for example where one species becomes very aggressive towards the species it competes with for food) their coevolving relationship is likely to reduce the effects of climate change on both species.
Where species interact in a non-conflicting way (for example where one species simply avoids the other species it competes with for food, rather than becoming aggressive) the effects of climate change are likely to be greater.
Dr Northfield, now at James Cook University in Cairns, worked at the University of Wisconsin with Dr Anthony Ives to develop a rule of thumb to help scientists calculate how co-evolving species might change over time.
"When evaluating the effects of climate change, there is already so much to consider, we were hoping to find some simple answers," Dr Northfield said.
Drs Northfield and Ives have developed modeling tools and guidelines to help scientists extrapolate from the short to longer term.
|Contact: Linden Woodward|
James Cook University