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Camille Parmesan, Terry L. Root, and Michael R. Willig

Climate is a driver of biotic systems. It affects individual fitness, population dynamics, distribution and abundance of species, and ecosystem structure and function. Regional variation in climatic regimes creates selective pressures for the evolution of locally adapted physiologies, morphological adaptations (e.g., color patterns, surface textures, body shapes and sizes), and behavioral adaptations (e.g., foraging strategies and breeding systems). In the absence of humans, broad-scale, long-term consequences of climatic warming on wild organisms are generally predictable. Evidence from Pleistocene glaciations indicates that most species responded ecologically by shifting their ranges poleward and upward in elevation, rather than evolutionary through local adaptation (e.g., morphological changes). But these broad patterns tell us little about the relative importance of gradual climatic trends as compared to extreme weather events in shaping these processes. Here, evidence is brought forward that extreme weather events can be implicated as mechanistic drivers of broad ecological responses to climatic trends. They are, therefore, essential to include in predictive biological models, such as doubled CO2 scenarios.

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Gerald A. Meehl, Thomas Karl, David R. Easterling, Stanley Changnon, Roger Pielke Jr., David Changnon, Jenni Evans, Pavel Ya. Groisman, Thomas R. Knutson, Kenneth E. Kunkel, Linda O. Mearns, Camille Parmesan, Roger Pulwarty, Terry Root, Richard T. Sylves, Peter Whetton, and Francis Zwiers

Weather and climatic extremes can have serious and damaging effects on human society and infrastructure as well as on ecosystems and wildlife. Thus, they are usually the main focus of attention of the news media in reports on climate. There are some indications from observations concerning how climatic extremes may have changed in the past. Climate models show how they could change in the future either due to natural climate fluctuations or under conditions of greenhouse gas-induced warming. These observed and modeled changes relate directly to the understanding of socioeconomic and ecological impacts related to extremes.

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