Release Date: September 12, 2022
BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo scientists have received over $2.9 million from the National Science Foundation to study the impacts of prehistoric climate change on ecosystems in Southeast Alaska.
This coastal region “holds exceptional geologic archives of past biological and climate change,” and may have also served as a crucial gateway for early human migration into the Americas, according to the project description.
The work brings together an interdisciplinary team. UB biologists will date and analyze DNA from ancient animal bones and plant matter to learn what species were living in the region at different times. Meanwhile, UB geologists will research Southeast Alaska’s ancient climate and understand which parts of the study area were covered with ice during the last ice age, and how quickly glaciers retreated as the region warmed.
Together, this data will tell a story about how ecosystems in the region changed as the climate shifted over the past 40,000 years.
What the scientists learn could provide important insights into how climate change may impact ecosystems around the world today, says Charlotte Lindqvist, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, who is leading the project as principal investigator.
“A lot of the research on how life on Earth responds to climate change has looked at single species over a short time span,” Lindqvist says. “We are trying to understand changes in species communities going back at least 40,000 years, also focusing on three particularly rapid warming events that we know took place since the last ice age. What kind of species were found before and after these events, and how did that correlate with changing environmental and climate variables? As warming occurs, do we have a different community of species — how quickly does it shift? If we can learn something about what happened in the past, it could tell us something about what may be happening today and in the future.”
Co-principal investigators include Jason Briner, PhD, professor of geology; Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, associate professor of geology; and Corey Krabbenhoft, PhD, an ecologist who will begin as assistant professor of biological sciences in 2023.
The project will invest in interdisciplinary STEM training and career-building to educate the next generation of multidisciplinary scientists, including training of postdoctoral associates and graduate and undergraduate students. The team will also develop programs for science teachers in Buffalo high schools, and for K-12 students in Southeast Alaska.
Lindqvist notes that the team of biologists and geologists has worked together in Southeast Alaska in the past, with prior studies contributing valuable information to conversations about how the first people may have entered the Americas, and about the history of dogs in the Americas.
The new grant, announced in August by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, will build on these prior successes with a broader study that examines the impact of prehistoric climate change on ecosystems in the same region.
“The University at Buffalo is deeply committed to addressing climate change and the ongoing sustainability crisis,” says UB President Satish K. Tripathi. “With this National Science Foundation award, our world-class scientists will be able to further climate science research, ultimately contributing to the understanding and mitigation of one of the predominant issues facing our nation and world. I am proud of our entire UB team and grateful for Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Brian Higgins’ unwavering support for climate research and for the National Science Foundation’s recognition of the important role UB can play in combatting one of society’s most pressing problems.”