Ecosystem vulnerability to climate change: A literature review

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This working paper reports results form a literature review on ecosystem vulnerability to climate change undertaken within the CIFOR-led project AdaptEA, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. A total of 410 scientific publications were reviewed, with 183 studies examined in detail. The number of papers published per year increased rapidly over time, with 94 studies appearing in 2011. Of those papers with clear geographic focus, most examined European or North American ecosystems, with only 18 studies focusing on Africa. Climatic and environmental drivers considered were temperature (52% of studies), precipitation (52%), carbon dioxide (15%) and rising sea level (11%). Methods used in assessment were expert knowledge (29%), statistical inference (27%), mechanistic modelling (27%), observation (5%) and experimentation (2%). Ten per cent of studies presented concepts for vulnerability assessment. For each major assessment type, sub-types were defined and evaluated. Few approaches taken to date satisfactorily cover all relevant aspects of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity of ecosystems. Climate analogue analysis is presented as an alternative approach. This method is based on a comparison of presently existing ecosystems with ecosystems at a different location, where the present climate is similar to the climate projected for the target location in the future. Potentials and limitations of climate analogues for evaluating ecosystem vulnerability are discussed.

This document is an output of a CIFOR-led project, entitled: "Adaptation of people to climate change in East Africa: Ecosystem services, risk reduction and human well-being". (AdaptEA). This project is being implemented in collaboration with Makerere University, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Primary funding for this project was provided through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (2011 CRD 306). Complementary funding was received from two CIFOR-led projects funded by AusAID (63560) and UNITAR (G.EGP.2011.03). Additional project information and publications are found on the project manager’s staff page, Aaron J.M. Russell.


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