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Climate change and ecosystems: threats, opportunities and solutions.


The rapid anthropogenic climate change that is being experienced in the early twenty-first century is intimately entwined with the health and functioning of the biosphere. Climate change is impacting ecosystems through changes in mean conditions and in climate variability, coupled with other associated changes such as increased ocean acidification and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. It also interacts with other pressures on ecosystems, including degradation, defaunation and fragmentation. There is a need to understand the ecological dynamics of these climate impacts, to identify hotspots of vulnerability and resilience and to identify management interventions that may assist biosphere resilience to climate change. At the same time, ecosystems can also assist in the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. The mechanisms, potential and limits of such nature-based solutions to climate change need to be explored and quantified. This paper introduces a thematic issue dedicated to the interaction between climate change and the biosphere. It explores novel perspectives on how ecosystems respond to climate change, how ecosystem resilience can be enhanced and how ecosystems can assist in addressing the challenge of a changing climate. It draws on a Royal Society-National Academy of Sciences Forum held in Washington DC in November 2018, where these themes and issues were discussed. We conclude by identifying some priorities for academic research and practical implementation, in order to maximize the potential for maintaining a diverse, resilient and well-functioning biosphere under the challenging conditions of the twenty-first century. This article is part of the theme issue 'Climate change and ecosystems: threats, opportunities and solutions'.

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