What exactly are these ecosystem changes? By Julie Peller Ph.D.

We tend to view the world solely through the lens of human existence, even though we are dependent upon the natural world. Over the past few decades, substantial global-scale ecosystem changes, influenced by a warming atmosphere, have been taking place. Researchers estimate that over 80% of core ecological processes have been affected by the changing climate. The global average temperature has increased by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, and many living organisms are sensitive to alterations in climate. What exactly are these ecosystem changes? Here are some examples of several scientific studies.

1) Mosquitoes are becoming more inclined to bite people than other animals, under conditions of longer hot, dry seasons. Also, researchers expect that the habitats of mosquitoes will expand, mainly two disease-spreading mosquitoes. 

2) In North American rivers and streams, the mixing of species has increased in frequency, notably between invasive rainbow trout and native cutthroat trout, as a response to warming waters.

3) Sea turtles are predicted to face several difficulties associated with the warming of the planet. The sex of turtle hatchlings is related to temperature, and the feminization of turtle populations is predicted to change from the current 52% to over 76% with rising temperatures. Researchers expect the changing gender ratio would initially lead to more females nesting, which would elevate the turtle population. A decline would follow this until incubation temperatures become too hot for their survival. Turtles are also facing losses of habitat with rising sea levels.

4) There is overwhelming evidence that migration and other life processes (hatching, budding, flowering, etc.) have been affected by climate change. A combination of warmer temperatures and higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has changed many plant populations’ growing period. Spawning times have shifted for at least 43 fish species in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Earlier spawning is associated with increased sea surface temperature. 

When we change the natural world, the natural world must respond. Many living creatures will either adapt to the changing climate or face extinction. Last year, the United Nations reported that over 1 million species of plants and animals fall under extinction risk. From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, Reverence for Life, “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.” 

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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