Climate change has adversely affected both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and is expected to further affect many ecosystems, including tundra, mangroves, coral reefs, and caves. Increasing global temperature, more frequent occurrence of extreme weather, and rising sea level are among some of the effects of climate change that will have the most significant impact. Some of the possible consequences of these effects include species decline and extinction, behavior change within ecosystems, increased prevalence of invasive species, a shift from forests being carbon sinks to carbon sources, ocean acidification, disruption of the water cycle, and increased occurrence of natural disasters, among others.
Climate change is affecting terrestrial ecoregions. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems are changing; some species are being forced out of their habitats (possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others are flourishing. Other effects of global warming include lessened snow cover, rising sea levels, and weather changes, may influence human activities and the ecosystem.
Within the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, experts assessed the literature on the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Rosenzweig et al. (2007) concluded that over the last three decades, human-induced warming had likely had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems (p. 81). Schneider et al. (2007) concluded, with very high confidence, that regional temperature trends had already affected species and ecosystems around the world (p. 792). They also concluded that climate change would result in the extinction of many species and a reduction in the diversity of ecosystems (p. 792).
- Terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity: With a warming of 3 °C, relative to 1990 levels, it is likely that global terrestrial vegetation would become a net source of carbon (Schneider et al., 2007:792). With high confidence, Schneider et al. (2007:788) concluded that a global mean temperature increase of around 4 °C (above the 1990-2000 level) by 2100 would lead to major extinctions around the globe.
- Marine ecosystems and biodiversity: With very high confidence, Schneider et al. (2007:792) concluded that a warming of 2 °C above 1990 levels would result in mass mortality of coral reefs globally. In addition, several studies dealing with planktonic organisms and modelling have shown that temperature plays a transcendental role in marine microbial food webs, which may have a deep influence on the biological carbon pump of marine planktonic pelagic and mesopelagic ecosystems.
- Freshwater ecosystems: Above about a 4 °C increase in global mean temperature by 2100 (relative to 1990–2000), Schneider et al. (2007:789) concluded, with high confidence, that many freshwater species would become extinct.