Strengthening confidence in climate change impact science

O'Connor, Mary I., Holding, Johnna M., Kappel, Carrie V., Duarte, Carlos M., Brander, Keith, Brown, Christopher J., Bruno, John F., Buckley, Lauren, Burrows, Michael T., Halpern, Benjamin S., Kiessling, Wolfgang, Moore, Pippa, Pandolfi, John M., Parmesan, Camille, Poloczanska, Elvira S., Schoeman, David S., Sydeman, William J. and Richardson, Anthony J. (2015) Strengthening confidence in climate change impact science. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 24 1: 64-76. doi:10.1111/geb.12218

Author O'Connor, Mary I.
Holding, Johnna M.
Kappel, Carrie V.
Duarte, Carlos M.
Brander, Keith
Brown, Christopher J.
Bruno, John F.
Buckley, Lauren
Burrows, Michael T.
Halpern, Benjamin S.
Kiessling, Wolfgang
Moore, Pippa
Pandolfi, John M.
Parmesan, Camille
Poloczanska, Elvira S.
Schoeman, David S.
Sydeman, William J.
Richardson, Anthony J.
Title Strengthening confidence in climate change impact science
Journal name Global Ecology and Biogeography   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1466-8238
Publication date 2015-01-01
Year available 2014
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/geb.12218
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 24
Issue 1
Start page 64
End page 76
Total pages 13
Place of publication Oxford, United Kingdom
Publisher Blackwell Publishing
Language eng
Subject 2306 Global and Planetary Change
1105 Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
2303 Ecology
Abstract AimTo assess confidence in conclusions about climate-driven biological change through time, and identify approaches for strengthening confidence scientific conclusions about ecological impacts of climate change.
Formatted abstract
Aim: To assess confidence in conclusions about climate-driven biological change through time, and identify approaches for strengthening confidence scientific conclusions about ecological impacts of climate change.

Location: Global.

Methods: We outlined a framework for strengthening confidence in inferences drawn from biological climate impact studies through the systematic integration of prior expectations, long-term data and quantitative statistical procedures. We then developed a numerical confidence index (Cindex) and used it to evaluate current practices in 208 studies of marine climate impacts comprising 1735 biological time series.

Results: Confidence scores for inferred climate impacts varied widely from 1 to 16 (very low to high confidence). Approximately 35% of analyses were not associated with clearly stated prior expectations and 65% of analyses did not test putative non-climate drivers of biological change. Among the highest-scoring studies, 91% tested prior expectations, 86% formulated expectations for alternative drivers but only 63% statistically tested them. Higher confidence scores observed in studies that did not detect a change or tracked multiple species suggest publication bias favouring impact studies that are consistent with climate change. The number of time series showing climate impacts was a poor predictor of average confidence scores for a given group, reinforcing that vote-counting methodology is not appropriate for determining overall confidence in inferences.

Main conclusions: Climate impacts research is expected to attribute biological change to climate change with measurable confidence. Studies with long-term, high-resolution data, appropriate statistics and tests of alternative drivers earn higher Cindex scores, suggesting these should be given greater weight in impact assessments. Together with our proposed framework, the results of our Cindex analysis indicate how the science of detecting and attributing biological impacts to climate change can be strengthened through the use of evidence-based prior expectations and thorough statistical analyses, even when data are limited, maximizing the impact of the diverse and growing climate change ecology literature.
Keyword Abundance
Climate change
Scientific method
Time series
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

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