New NSF-funded institute to study ecosystem evolution

The Evolving Meta-Ecosystems Institute will convene experts from across biological disciplines to enable a deeper understanding of ecosystem resilience in the face of rapid climate change

Dr. Heidi Golden holds an arctic greyling, a dark grey fish roughly a foot long

Dr. Heidi Golden holds an Arctic grayling from lower Oksrukuyik Creek, Alaska. photo by Mark Urban

Today, Woodwell Climate Research Center launched a new 6-year project, the Evolving Meta-Ecosystems (EvoME) Institute. The Institute is one of four major awards recently announced by the National Science Foundation, each receiving $15 million. Bringing together experts from 14 institutions, the institute focuses on improving scientific and public understanding of how ecosystems are responding—and will continue to respond—to a rapidly changing climate.

“Ecosystems are complex communities, made up of many different species that have evolved with each other and their shared environments over long periods of time,” said Woodwell Senior Scientist and Institute Director, Dr. Linda Deegan. “As the planet warms, however, ecosystems are undergoing accelerated rates of change, especially in the Arctic where temperatures are rising at nearly four times the global rate. Will ecosystems fall apart, muddle along in a reduced state, or can species adapt to keep pace with climate change?”

“Arctic species and ecosystems are uniquely adapted to their extreme environment, and we seek to understand if they can now adapt to climate change. Moreover, these species are not only important ecologically, but they also provide food and livelihoods for people,” added Mark Urban, University of Connecticut Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Institute co-lead. “It is critical that we understand how species and ecosystems will respond to rapid Arctic warming as well as the implications for local and global climate policy and action.”

Through the EvoME Institute, scientists will work to answer these questions, bringing together experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to collaborate on research efforts across the Arctic and generate new biological insights. As part of this work, the institute also aims to foster a new generation of cross-disciplinary biologists, with special attention to increasing the inclusion and retention of researchers from backgrounds currently underrepresented in the field.

EvoME will also invite reporters into the research process, providing a unique opportunity to partner directly with on-the-ground EvoME scientists, and empowering a deeper understanding of the Arctic and its climate challenges through collaborative journalism and storytelling.

More information, including collaborators and updates, can be found here.

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