“Based on the satellite data gathered, we can identify areas that, over the past 14 years, have shown high sensitivity to climate variability,” said study first author Alistair Seddon from the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway.
The researchers described the new method for measuring ecosystem sensitivity to climate variability in the journal Nature.
“We have found ecologically sensitive regions with amplified responses to climate variability in the Arctic tundra, parts of the boreal forest belt, the tropical rainforest, alpine regions worldwide, steppe and prairie regions of central Asia and North and South America, forests in South America, and eastern areas of Australia,” Seddon noted.
The metric that the researchers developed, the Vegetation Sensitivity Index (VSI), allows a more quantifiable response to climate change challenges and how sensitive different ecosystems are to short-term climate anomalies such as a warmer June than on average, a cold December, a cloudy September, among others.
The index supplements previous methods for monitoring and evaluating the condition of ecosystems, the study said.
For the study, the researchers used satellite data from 2000 to 2013.
“Our study provides a quantitative methodology for assessing the relative response rate of ecosystems, either natural ones or those with a strong anthropogenic footprint, to climate variability,” Seddon explained.