The Laurentian Great Lakes: a case study in ecological disturbance and climate change.
Climate change effects are already significant, but can also magnify other ecological problems. This can be clearly seen in the Laurentian Great Lakes, which have suffered habitat degradation, fishery overharvest and dramatic alterations by invasive species. Thermal changes are expected to cause extensive loss of suitable fish habitat, and changing precipitation patterns will aggravate the problems with our highly modified lotic and lentic systems. A brief summary of the historic ecological context provided by the Great Lakes case is presented, followed by the descriptions of selected tools that help to understand and evaluate both ecological and climate change problems. Species distribution models and habitat classification combined with climate change predictions can identify the distribution and extent of optimal habitats, and identify which are most vulnerable to climate change. Ecological flow modelling can help to identify when critical flow changes are likely. Mechanistic simulation modelling specifies understanding of how aquatic systems function and can reveal cause and effect relationships. These tools can be used to help managers to protect optimal habitat, resist climate change effects to other habitats and adapt cultural systems to climate-altered aquatic systems.