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Biological responses to extreme weather events are detectable but difficult to formally attribute to anthropogenic climate change


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Harris, RMB ORCID: 0000-0002-6426-2179, Loeffler, F, Rumm, A, Fischer, C, Horchler, P, Scholz, M, Foeckler, F and Henle, K 2020 , 'Biological responses to extreme weather events are detectable but difficult to formally attribute to anthropogenic climate change' , Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 1 , pp. 1-14 , doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-70901-6.

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As the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as droughts, heatwaves and floods have increased over recent decades, more extreme biological responses are being reported, and there is widespread interest in attributing such responses to anthropogenic climate change. However, the formal detection and attribution of biological responses to climate change is associated with many challenges. We illustrate these challenges with data from the Elbe River floodplain, Germany. Using community turnover and stability indices, we show that responses in plant, carabid and mollusc communities are detectable following extreme events. Community composition and species dominance changed following the extreme flood and summer heatwave of 2002/2003 (all taxa); the 2006 flood and heatwave (molluscs); and after the recurring floods and heatwave of 2010 and the 2013 flood (plants). Nevertheless, our ability to attribute these responses to anthropogenic climate change is limited by high natural variability in climate and biological data; lack of long-term data and replication, and the effects of multiple events. Without better understanding of the mechanisms behind change and the interactions, feedbacks and potentially lagged responses, multiple-driver attribution is unlikely. We discuss whether formal detection and/or attribution is necessary and suggest ways in which understanding of biological responses to extreme events could progress.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Harris, RMB and Loeffler, F and Rumm, A and Fischer, C and Horchler, P and Scholz, M and Foeckler, F and Henle, K
Journal or Publication Title: Scientific Reports
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
ISSN: 2045-2322
DOI / ID Number: 10.1038/s41598-020-70901-6
Copyright Information:

© The Author(s) 2020. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, ( which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made.

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