From: Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)
Published May 16, 2017 11:49 AM
An oystercatcher nest is washed away in a storm surge. Australian passerine birds die during a heatwave. A late frost in their breeding area kills off a group of American cliff swallows. Small tragedies that may seem unrelated, but point to the underlying long-term impact of extreme climatic events. In the special June issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, NIOO researchers launch a new approach to these 'extreme' studies.
Extremes, outliers, cataclysms: as a field of biological research, it's still in its infancy, but interest in the impact of extreme weather and climate events on nature is growing rapidly. That's partly because it is now increasingly clear that the impact of extreme events on animal behaviour, ecology and evolution could well be greater than that of the 'normal' periods in between. And partly because due to climate change, the frequency of such events is likely to increase.
Not 1 to 1
But how do we define extreme events in the first place? That's problematic, explain NIOO researchers Marcel Visser and Martijn van de Pol. "For climatologists, weather has to be warmer, colder or more extreme in some other way than it is 95% of the time. But that doesn't necessarily make it extreme in terms of its impact on nature. There isn't a 1 to 1 correspondence."
According to the researchers and a group of international colleagues, most of the evidence suggests that the impact varies depending on the species and the circumstances. "Obviously for a bird, the impact of a couple of extremely cold days in December wouldn't be the same as in April or May, when there are chicks in the nest." This makes it very difficult to predict the consequences of extremes.