© PSG and PDC, 2005

Contact us

Last Update:
February 11, 2008

Chapter 3 - The physical environment.

New books and papers | Websites

Chapter Outline :

    • The environment can be thought of as a series of interconnected cycles;
    • Any change in one cycle will affect all the others and alter the total environment;
    • The cycles which make up the physical environment exert considerable influence over plant and animal distributions;
    • The physical environment operates at three different scales or levels. At each level the impact and its implications differ;
    • At the individual level, the physical environment controls the existence of the organism;
    • At the species level, the physical environment controls the distribution of the population;
    • At the community level, the physical environment controls the composition of the ecosystem;
    • These physical factors can be translated into a series of key concepts which help explain plant and animal distributions;
    • It is usually assumed that the physical environment is in equilibrium with plants and animals. When changes occur through time there are two responses that can be made: organisms change their responses (evolution) or their locations (succession).


New books and papers
Author(s) Title (and link) Comment
Janhunan et al 2007 Biological Feedbacks as Cause and Demise of Neoproterozoic Icehouse: Astrobiological Prospects for
Faster Evolution and Importance of Cold Conditions
Puts forward a viable explanation of interaction between early lifeforms and the considerable changes in climate in the Pre-Cambrian especially those in in the Cryogenian when the Earth went from ice to warmer. This also has astrobiological implications.
Barth et al 2007 Delayed upwelling alters nearshore coastal ocean ecosystems in the northern California current Even slight changes in the ocean current pattern can have significant effects on terrestrial species.
Kirwan and Murray 2007 A coupled geomorphic and ecological model of tidal marsh evolution Demonstrates that to best understand the changes in a dynamic system like tidal marshes one needs to look at both positive and negative elements e.g. plants and physical factors.
Rahmstorf 2007 A Semi-Empirical Approach to
Projecting Future Sea-Level Rise
Describes a method of calculating future changes in sea level
Royer, Berner and Park 2007 Climate sensitivity constrained by CO2 concentrations over the past 420 million years Comments on the robust nature of climate change over geological time scales.
Leduc et al 2007 Moisture transport across Central America as a positive feedback on abrupt climatic changes Suggests that climate is partially controlled by movements of moisture
Narisma et al 2007 Abrupt changes in rainfall during the twentieth century. Studies of rainfall variations show considerable change in many areas. These dynamics can be used to better assess climate change.
Carlson et al 2007 Geochemical proxies of North American freshwater routing during the Younger Dryas cold event Examines the range of indicators that can be used to measure events and proposes a new set said to be more accurate
O'Brien Biological relativity to water–energy
New evidence suggests that the impact of climate on species is due to interactions of energy dynamics of water.
Lawrence et al 2006 Evolution of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Through Plio-Pleistocene Glaciation This study suggests that global changes in the Northern hemisphere were not key to changes in southern distributions.
Bryden, Longworth and Cunningham 2005 Slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 258N One of the latest examples showing how the ocean energy system is being altered by global warming.
Wassen et al 2005 Endangered plants persist under phosphorus limitation Nitrogen enrichment is not as species-limiting as phosphorus enrichment in this trans-European study
Hinzman et al 2005 Evidence and implications of recent climate change in Northern alaska and other Arctic regions Shows not only the complexity and inter-linkages of biotic and abiotic environments but also the paucity of multi-disciplinary research/data.
Ciais et al 2005 Europe-wide reduction in primary productivity caused by the heat and drought in 2003 Global warming may not increase carbon sequestration in the temperate areas but turn such areas into sources instead.
Chapin et al 2005 Role of Land-Surface Changes in
Arctic Summer Warming
 More research is showing how complex fedback mechanisms are with global warming. This one looks at the role of albedo in the Arctic.
Capone et al 2005 Nitrogen fixation by Trichodesmium spp.: An important source of new
nitrogen to the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic Ocean
Nitrogen is often a limiting factor in nutrient poor ecosystems such as oceans. Here the research shows a key source of nitrogen.
Barnett, Adam and Lettenmaier 2005. Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions Important global study suggesting that global warming will reduce freshwater storage capacity in mountain areas.
Angert et al 2005 Drier summers cancel out the CO2 uptake enhancement induced by warmer springs An interesting articel which seems to argue against the increased growing times and thereforwe carbon uptake from global warming.
Mayorga et al 2005 Young organic matter as a source of carbon dioxide outgassing from Amazonian rivers. Although carbon sources in rivers can be old, major fluxes can be caused by younger sources.
Asner and Heidebrecht 2005 Desertification alters regional ecosystem-climate interactions It's well known that the physical environment affects species distribution but the rise of desertification means that the importance of this paper could go beyond a mere US example.
Kaiser 2004 Wounding Earth’s Fragile Skin Catalogues some problems of human impact - a useful overview of current thinking
EPICA 2004 Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic ice core One key report about a major set of climate data
Feely et al 2004 Impact of Anthropogenic CO2 on
the CaCO3 System in the Oceans.
Human impact through global warming can now show effects on oceanic carbonate rates.
Higgins and Vellinga 2004 Ecosystem responses to abrupt climate change. Models are starting to show the different responses in ecosystem perturbations to climate change.
 Huxman et al 2004 Convergence across biomes to common rain-use efficiency The original idea was that above ground biomass (NPP) would respond to rain according to the species. This suggests that NPP at low rain levels converges to a mean wioth important impliocations for global warming calculations.
Dickson et al 2002 Rapid freshening of the deep North
Atlantic Ocean over the past four
The ocean current s once thought to be simple movements are now seen to be far more complex, and important, that hitherto realised.
Tyson et al 2001 The Earth system: regional-global linkages. Reg. Env. Change 2 128- 140 Considers the advantages of looking at the regional scale for environmental change

To top

If you find something that would be useful to other people then please let us know.