Ecological tipping point: 5+ El Niño events per century controls coastal biotic communities

Many models predict that climate change will fuel stronger and more frequent El Niño events. However, our knowledge of ENSO and its influence on ecosystems only extends back about 200 years, making it difficult to understand what the long-term future will hold. In the new study, the authors leveraged a coastal rockshelter site called Abrigo de los Escorpiones, one of the largest and best-dated collections of vertebrate bones deposited by humans and raptors on the Pacific coast of North America. Their analysis revealed a striking pattern — when five or more major El Niño events occurred per century, the marine and terrestrial ecosystems restructured dramatically to a sustained phase of low marine productivity and high terrestrial productivity.Many models predict that climate change will fuel stronger and more frequent El Niño events. However, our knowledge of ENSO and its influence on ecosystems only extends back about 200 years, making it difficult to understand what the long-term future will hold. In the new study, the authors leveraged a coastal rockshelter site called Abrigo de los Escorpiones, one of the largest and best-dated collections of vertebrate bones deposited by humans and raptors on the Pacific coast of North America. Their analysis revealed a striking pattern — when five or more major El Niño events occurred per century, the marine and terrestrial ecosystems restructured dramatically to a sustained phase of low marine productivity and high terrestrial productivity.

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