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Climate change impacts on ecosystems and ecosystem services in the United States: process and prospects for sustained assessment


The third United States National Climate Assessment emphasized an evaluation of not just the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems, but also the impacts of climate change on the benefits that people derive from nature, known as ecosystem services. The ecosystems, biodiversity, and ecosystem services component of the assessment largely drew upon the findings of a transdisciplinary workshop aimed at developing technical input for the assessment, involving participants from diverse sectors. A small author team distilled and synthesized this and hundreds of other technical input to develop the key findings of the assessment. The process of developing and ranking key findings hinged on identifying impacts that had particular, demonstrable effects on the U.S. public via changes in national ecosystem services. Findings showed that ecosystem services are threatened by the impacts of climate change on water supplies, species distributions and phenology, as well as multiple assaults on ecosystem integrity that, when compounded by climate change, reduce the capacity of ecosystems to buffer against extreme events. As ecosystems change, such benefits as water sustainability and protection from storms that are afforded by intact ecosystems are projected to decline across the continent due to climate change. An ongoing, sustained assessment that focuses on the co-production of actionable climate science will allow scientists from a range of disciplines to ascertain the capability of their forecasting models to project environmental and ecological change and link it to ecosystem services; additionally, an iterative process of evaluation, development of management strategies, monitoring, and reevaluation will increase the applicability and usability of the science by the U.S. public.

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The authors acknowledge the contributions of many scientists and other stakeholders to the production of the TI BEES and the Ecosystems Chapter. We are especially grateful to TI BEES steering committee members Peter Kareiva and Shawn Carter and author team members Carter, Kareiva, Josh Lawler, Michelle Mack, and Virginia Matzek. NCA staff member Susan Aragon-Long was tireless in her efforts during the review and revision process. We acknowledge the work of reviewers, whose comments helped to improve this paper.

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Correspondence to Nancy B. Grimm.

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This article is part of a special issue on “The National Climate Assessment: Innovations in Science and Engagement” edited by Katharine Jacobs, Susanne Moser, and James Buizer.

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Grimm, N.B., Groffman, P., Staudinger, M. et al. Climate change impacts on ecosystems and ecosystem services in the United States: process and prospects for sustained assessment. Climatic Change 135, 97–109 (2016).

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  • Ecosystem Service
  • Sustained Assessment
  • Future Assessment
  • Technical Input
  • Author Team