News Round-Up

How new data can make ecological forecasts as good as weather forecasts


When El Nino approaches, driven by warm Pacific Ocean waters, we’ve come to expect both drenching seasonal rains in the southern U.S. and drought in the Amazon. Those opposite extremes have huge effects on society and are increasingly predictable thanks to decades of weather data.

Soon, University of Wisconsin–Madison ecologist Ben Zuckerberg thinks we’ll be able to pull off the same forecasting feat for bird migrations and wildlife populations. That’s because just as those recurring changes in climate have predictable consequences for humans, they also have predictable effects on plants and animals.

For instance, ecological predictions could help us prepare for diseases in crops or population crashes in endangered species. Good forecasting could tell us where conservation measures are needed most in the coming year or decade. MORE

Header image: The Indian Ocean Dipole is one example of repeated and predictable climate patterns that create opposite extremes over large regions. When waters off of East Africa warm, it sets up heavy rains in some regions and drought in others. When East African waters cool, those rainfall patterns reverse. Plants and animals likely respond to these regional changes in climate. Credit: E. Paul Oberlander, with permission from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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