Physiological studies should be in the centre of climate change biology

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Tiistai 12.4.2022 klo 15:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change, and other environmental changes, affect the functions of organisms. The changes in populations and ecosystems follow these functional changes. If the functions of some organisms are not disturbed, the environmental change does not affect the ecosystem, if immigration and emigration can be accounted for.

These simple facts indicate that functional studies, i.e., physiology, should be in the centre of environmental biology. Indeed, a stone could have exactly the same molecules as an organism, but without functions it would still be a stone. However, physiological studies are marginalized in climate change research and environmental biology – there are less than 1/10th of published physiological articles as compared to ecological articles within environmental biology. Furthermore, studies on animals account for less than 1/3rd of the physiological studies.

In short, one carries out extensive ecological surveys and population genetic studies and observes that something has happened. This is the major problem with the research, it shows what has already occurred, but fails to evaluate why and how. With climate change research it is obvious that temperature increase plays a role, but only physiological studies can clarify, what the affected pathways are. Also, physiological investigations can answer in real time, if a disturbance is adequate to cause a perturbation in populations and ecosystems.

Climate change research as well as other environmental biology should be predictive. This requires that physiology becomes a central, not a marginal discipline. Studies require intensive, time-demanding work, which is often technically quite demanding. Because of this, the number of scientists working on physiological questions should be drastically increased. Only this makes it possible to turn environmental and climate change biology to predictive science, which is required to combat environmental problems.

Avainsanat: ecophysiology, ecology, environmental pollution, temperature

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