A Clam’s-Eye View of Climate Change

THU, APR 6, 2017

The impacts of global climate change on ocean ecosystems are now pervasive. But how well do we truly understand the ways in which a shifting climate affects nonhuman organisms, and how might our anthropocentric view of the world cloud our understanding of what to expect in nature? For example, the vast majority of plants and animals, unlike humans, make no metabolic heat and, as such, they have body temperatures that can fluctuate by 30 degrees Fahrenheit or more over the course of a few hours.

Using a unique combination of computer modeling, field instrumentation, and virtual reality technology, Brian Helmuth gives a worldwide tour of how climate change is affecting coastal ecosystems from the perspective of marine invertebrates and explores how many of the most significant effects of global climate change can only be predicted when we step outside our biased perceptions of how weather and climate affect natural ecosystems. His results suggest that while many coastal ecosystems may be much closer to collapse than initially expected, in some cases, climate change can lead to positive responses at some locations. Discerning among these possibilities is therefore crucial if we are to find novel ways of adapting to a warmer planet.

+ BIO: Brian Helmuth

Helmuth's research explores the effects of climate and climate change on the physiology and ecology of marine organisms. Specifically, he uses thermal engineering techniques, including a combination of field work, remote sensing and mathematical modeling, to explore the ways in which the environment determines the body temperatures of coastal marine animals such as mussels and seastars. Combined with energetics models, this approach provides a quantitative method of mapping patterns of growth, reproduction, and survival in economically and ecologically important coastal species.

New England Aquarium