On 10 October, the American Meteorological Society continued its Environmental Science Seminar Series for Congress. Dr. Camille Parmesan, associate professor in the Section on Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, briefed lawmakers on "Impacts of Recent Climate Change: Current Responses and Future Projections for Wild Ecosystems." Parmesan was a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports whose assessment of the current impact of climate change earned the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The presentation explored the question: Is species rescue part of the prognosis for the future? Her meta-analysis documents species effects that culminate in extinction due to heat, altered spring behaviors that uncouple species interactions, and range shifts that create invasive competition. She proposed two platforms to mitigate widespread and accelerating species extinction. The first is to redefine "habitat" within the Endangered Species Act. The current definition is a species' historic range, similar in concept to a realized niche, under which species have lost protection as they migrate out of their historic range. She proposes to broaden "habitat" to a definition mirroring a species' fundamental niche to continue protection within a changing climate.

Changing the definition of habitat would allow, too, use of assisted migration. Parmesan argues for passive assisted migration to protect the path and future sites of migrating species. She also recommends limited active assisted migration to physically move select blocked species, though this would be restricted by resources and the high risk of reintroduction. The strategy has been successfully tested in moving non-endangered species of butterfly from Wyoming to Colorado.

Whether or not legislative changes include these strategies in particular, change is needed according to Parmesan. She indicated that laws should be broad enough to allow responses to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and reminded legislators that doing nothing already carries great risk.

 


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