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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • data assimilation;
  • earth system;
  • experimentation;
  • global change;
  • process study;
  • terrestrial ecosystems

Abstract

Many serious ecosystem consequences of climate change will take decades or even centuries to emerge. Long-term ecological responses to global change are strongly regulated by slow processes, such as changes in species composition, carbon dynamics in soil and by long-lived plants, and accumulation of nutrient capitals. Understanding and predicting these processes require experiments on decadal time scales. But decadal experiments by themselves may not be adequate because many of the slow processes have characteristic time scales much longer than experiments can be maintained. This article promotes a coordinated approach that combines long-term, large-scale global change experiments with process studies and modeling. Long-term global change manipulative experiments, especially in high-priority ecosystems such as tropical forests and high-latitude regions, are essential to maximize information gain concerning future states of the earth system. The long-term experiments should be conducted in tandem with complementary process studies, such as those using model ecosystems, species replacements, laboratory incubations, isotope tracers, and greenhouse facilities. Models are essential to assimilate data from long-term experiments and process studies together with information from long-term observations, surveys, and space-for-time studies along environmental and biological gradients. Future research programs with coordinated long-term experiments, process studies, and modeling have the potential to be the most effective strategy to gain the best information on long-term ecosystem dynamics in response to global change.