PROGRAM TITLE:  	Paleoecological Effects of Climate Change
ACTIVITY STREAM:  	Observations
SCIENCE ELEMENT:    	Earth System History
	Ecological Systems and Dynamics
	Human Interactions

 SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (NMNH)

SCIENTIFIC MERIT:  The objectives of this program are to understand 
natural rates of environmental change, to detect the effects of past 
environmental and climatic changes on ecological systems, to examine 
previous episodes of warm climate (e.g. the early Eocene warm interval), to 
test the predictions of computer simulations of paleoclimate, to establish pre-
human baseline conditions, and to extract general rules of ecosystem response 
to sudden environmental change.  

This program will include phases related to observation (data gathering on 
fossils, sediments, stable isotopes), understanding (data analysis and theory 
testing), and data systems (development of computer systems to assist in 
organizing, archiving, analyzing, and preserving data on the history of global 
change).  The program also will be gathering data critical to testing models 
developed by those involved in prediction activities.  To meet our goals we 
will be focusing on warm intervals in earth history, times of major and 
sudden environmental/climatic change, and pre/post human comparisons.

Our understanding of long-term behavior of ecosystems in response to 
climatic change is very weak, as is our knowledge of pre-human baseline 
conditions.  We also need a stronger proxy record of paleoclimate against 
which to test computer simulations of climate.

Data will be maintained in both individual database systems and in larger 
communal databases.  Information relating to fossil collections is maintained 
in a NMNH-wide system.  Data and inferences on terrestrial systems will be 
included in a customized research data management program linked to 
graphics/map interface.  This database will be shared with collaborating 
scholars at private and governmental research institutions.

The program was established in FY 1987 by Smithsonian Trust Funds as the 
"Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems," and as a federal line item in FY 1988, 
but components of the program have existed for much longer as individual 
research efforts.  Research plans and protocols already exist and are active for 
all parts of the program.  The Museum of Natural History houses collections 
and field data, and provides laboratory and office space.

Studies of the early Eocene warm interval, Paleozoic peat swamp 
communities, Holocene coral reef histories, and the pre/post human faunas 
of the Hawaiian islands are already underway.  Data gathering and analysis 
for these studies continues in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, 
Wyoming, and around the Caribbean basin.  

We have produced numerous research articles in refereed journals 
documenting such things as the effect of sea-level rise on coral reef growth, 
pre-historic human colonization on island biotas, climate change on 
vegetational diversity and structure.  We have a book in press titled 
"Evolutionary Paleoecology of the Terrestrial Biota", that documents major 
episodes of climatic and ecological change on land.  We have designed and 
implemented a custom computer data base that is linked to a map-displaying 
graphics interface; these allow researchers to interactively query the database 
while simultaneously evaluating the positions of paleoclimatic and 
paleobiogeographic boundaries, and the data points from which they are 
derived.  We have established an international network of collaborating 
scholars at private and governmental institutions.  We have sponsored and 
hosted international meetings, and a symposium addressing the issue of 
ecosystem stability on long and short time scales.  We have preliminary data 
suggesting that past ecosystems may have displayed "threshold" effects; they 
showed little response to climate change over long time periods, then 
changed rapidly over short intervals.

STAKEHOLDERS:  Strong linkages to research at USGS, and other 
Smithsonian agencies, as well as NSF supported research being carried out at 
many private universities and museums.

POLICY RELEVANCE:  Study of "deep history" makes three unique and 
important contributions to global change research.  One, biotic, geologic, and 
climate systems experience natural fluctuations over decades to 105 years, 
therefore only retrospective studies that consider very long time periods have 
a hope of distinguishing signal from noise, and of establishing pre-human 
baseline conditions.  Two, fossils and sedimentary rocks directly record the 
impact of past global climate change on ecological systems, providing the only 
examples we have of these phenomena and their effects.  Three, 
paleontological and geological data are the critical, and only, test of computer-
based simulations of past climate conditions, and so they play an important 
role in refining models of climate dynamics.

This program addresses most of the research priorities outlined in the GCRP 
under Earth System History.  Paleoclimate and paleoecology are explicit foci of 
research, as are past changes in ocean circulation, ocean productivity, and sea 
level.  The program will produce results relevant to subjects listed under 
Ecological Systems and Dynamics, particularly long-term measurement of 
structure/function.  Paleontological data  collected by this program will also 
be important for testing models developed by researchers operating under 
Climate and Hydrologic Systems.

PROGRAM CONTACTS:

SI SGCR Representative:	Ted A. Maxwell
		NASM MRC 315
		Smithsonian Institution
		Washington, D.C.  20560
		202 357 1424
		FAX:  202 786 2566
		Email: tmaxwell@ceps.nasm.edu
	
Bureau Representative:	Marsha Sitnik
		NMNH MRC 106
		Smithsonian Institution
		Washington, D.C.  20560
		202 357 2670
		FAX: 202 786 2934
		Email: nmhod004@sivm.si.edu