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Cornell co-leads $3 million study of how climate change affects biodiversity

A Cornell team will explore the consequences of rapid climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems, thanks to $3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The five-year NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity grant -- a collaborative effort among Cornell, Colorado State University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln -- will be used to study how climate warming and changing precipitation patterns might affect species and ecosystems in small streams in the Colorado Rockies and Ecuadorian Andes.

The researchers will test whether tropical stream insects and frogs will be more sensitive to warming and changes in stream flow than temperate species; and similarly, how stream species living at high elevations (alpine zones) compare to species in the lowlands (foothills) when stressed by climate changes. The project will use advanced genetic techniques to identify new species; measure various species' abilities to tolerate warming and reduced oxygen in the water; characterize species' ability to move between streams as climate changes; and experimentally manipulate alpine streams to simulate effects of climate change.

The researchers believe their study -- one of the first to map aquatic species vulnerabilities due to climate changes across both latitudes and elevations -- "will be highly relevant to policymakers concerned with freshwater biodiversity conservation and sustainable water management," said Alex Flecker, one of the project's principal investigators along with Kelly Zamudio, both Cornell associate professors of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Joseph Bernardo, a Cornell senior research associate in natural resources.

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