The importance of paleoclimate

Submitted by editor on 30 March 2023. Get the paper!

We have just published in Ecography our new paper describing pastclim 1.2: an R package to easily access and use paleoclimatic reconstructions.

We decided to produce this piece of software because paleoclimatic data are normally stored in specific file formats that are challenging to handle for scholars unfamiliar with them. With our R package, we provided easy access to such data to facilitate the integration of palaeoclimate into studies from a wide range of disciplines: from paleoecology to archaeology, conservation to population genetics, macroevolution to anthropology, and human evolution to linguistics.

While it may be straightforward to understand why integrating palaeoclimate into analyses can deepen our understanding of the past, it may be easier to overlook the importance of palaeoclimate to inform our decisions for the present and the future. Fluctuations in the Earth's climate have always been happening because of natural phenomena, but human activities during the last couple of centuries have entailed changes in the global climate that are much faster and more extreme than anything that could occur in nature. In the face of such a crisis, studying the climate of the past can help us in many ways.

Climate and its fluctuations have affected the evolution of living organisms for millions of years: reconstructing as much as possible these evolutionary trajectories that happened in the past increases our understanding of how living species will be most likely to react to current changes; and which actions will be most effective to protect them.

Climate is also one of the mechanisms that most influence the geographic distribution of species. Having information about the conditions in which a species lived in the past helps us understand in which areas it might survive in the future.

Finally, climate changes have significantly influenced human migrations and many cultural and linguistic processes associated with them. Being able to analyse these processes in detail can give us invaluable information on why today we are as we are, not only biologically but also culturally.

Michela Leonardi, Emily Y. Hallett, Robert Beyer, Mario Krapp, Andrea Manica
pastclim 1.2: an R package to easily access and use paleoclimatic reconstructions