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Type: Journal article
Title: Beyond long-term averages: making biological sense of a rapidly changing world
Author: Helmuth, B.
Russell, B.
Connell, S.
Dong, Y.
Harley, C.
Lima, F.
Sará, G.
Williams, G.
Mieszkowska, N.
Citation: Climate Change Responses, 2014; 1(1):6-1-6-12
Publisher: BioMed Central
Issue Date: 2014
ISSN: 2053-7565
Statement of
Brian Helmuth, Bayden D Russell, Sean D Connell, Yunwei Dong, Christopher DG Harley, Fernando P Lima, Gianluca Sará, Gray A Williams, and Nova Mieszkowska
Abstract: Biological responses to climate change are typically communicated in generalized terms such as poleward and altitudinal range shifts, but adaptation efforts relevant to management decisions often require forecasts that incorporate the interaction of multiple climatic and nonclimatic stressors at far smaller spatiotemporal scales. We argue that the desire for generalizations has, ironically, contributed to the frequent conflation of weather with climate, even within the scientific community. As a result, current predictions of ecological responses to climate change, and the design of experiments to understand underlying mechanisms, are too often based on broad-scale trends and averages that at a proximate level may have very little to do with the vulnerability of organisms and ecosystems. The creation of biologically relevant metrics of environmental change that incorporate the physical mechanisms by which climate trains patterns of weather, coupled with knowledge of how organisms and ecosystems respond to these changes, can offer insight into which aspects of climate change may be most important to monitor and predict. This approach also has the potential to enhance our ability to communicate impacts of climate change to nonscientists and especially to stakeholders attempting to enact climate change adaptation policies.
Keywords: Climate adaptation; Communication; Ecological forecasting; Experimental design; Physiological ecology; Mechanistic models; Scale; Species distribution modeling; Weather
Rights: © 2014 Helmuth et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
RMID: 0030018529
DOI: 10.1186/s40665-014-0006-0
Appears in Collections:Ecology, Evolution and Landscape Science publications

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