Ecosystems & Communities

This chapter includes coverage of two subject areas in which our understanding is constantly changing and improving.

Global climate science is always in the news. Unfortunately, most news concentrates on climate change … without ever explaining how the global climate system works! How can you make a judgment about whether or not a complex system is changing without knowing anything about how the system works?! Happily, our understanding of climate is growing by leaps and bounds … in large part thanks to data gathered by satellite, processed by powerful computers, and transformed from raw numbers into extraordinary images by a talented team of NASA researchers. In addition to improving scientists’ understanding of the global climate system, these data make teaching and understanding climate a lot easier. Check out this collection of images and animations from the lifeafterearthscience website. The discussion about the global climate system continues to talk about climate change … which we discuss in Chapter 6.

While we’re on the subject, one of the most important distinctions to be made and thoroughly understood in this chapter is the difference between weather and climate. We make that distinction clearly in the text, but I emphasize it, because it becomes vitally important in Chapter 6, where we talk about climate change.

The study of Biomes is also undergoing a radical change. In fact, a growing number of ecologists are questioning whether the traditional classification of biomes is relevant for the 21st century. Why? Because human activity has dramatically transformed much of the land area that was once covered by “grassland/savannah,” “tropical rain forest,” and other biomes. What do those ecologists recommend? They suggest classify many areas: as “Anthropogenic Landscapes” or Anthromes – areas where human activity has profoundly altered the original biomes. We’ll talk more about this notion in Chapter 6, but you can get an introduction to it on the website of the Laboratory for Anthropogenic Landscape Ecology.