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


Harris, RMB and Loeffler, F and Rumm, A and Fischer, C and Horchler, P and Scholz, M and Foeckler, F and Henle, K, Biological responses to extreme weather events are detectable but difficult to formally attribute to anthropogenic climate change, Scientific Reports, 10, (1) Article 14067. ISSN 2045-2322 (2020) [Refereed Article]

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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.

DOI: doi:10.1038/s41598-020-70901-6


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 Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Climate change impacts and adaptation
Research Field:Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Natural hazards
Objective Field:Climatological hazards (e.g. extreme temperatures, drought and wildfires)
UTAS Author:Harris, RMB (Dr Rebecca Harris)
ID Code:142387
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:10
Deposited By:Geography and Spatial Science
Deposited On:2021-01-13
Last Modified:2022-01-17
Downloads:20 View Download Statistics

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