Predicting the impact of climate change on the earth’s inhabitants is a wicked problem. Determining which species are most vulnerable to rapid temperature change and its consequences requires an inspection of evidence across large spatial and temporal scales. While a fair amount of research has investigated biodiversity loss in terrestrial species, little work has been done with marine organisms. One of us (MP) has been working with colleagues to use thermal envelopes (i.e., the range of thermal tolerance of an organism) as a tool to project which marine ecosystems are likely to experience biodiversity loss. To understand these projections, learners must be able to reason about temporal and spatial dynamics within ecosystems as well as grapple with how evidence across scales can be used to reason about future events. One of us (RJ) has been working with colleagues to address common learner conceptions about non-linear change, integrating ideas across scale, and modeling. Together, we will present data of biodiversity loss while addressing learner challenges and assessment.
MP has found that ocean species have low thermal safety margins, and of these, tropical species are especially vulnerable to future warming. Further, because oceans generally lack temperature refuges (in contrast to what might be found in terrestrial habitats), local extinctions appear especially likely in the ocean. This loss in local biodiversity, however, may be offset by the greater colonization abilities of marine species as a whole. The tradeoffs and consequences involve complex, non-linear dynamics that can be hard to understand. RJ and colleagues have previously found that providing learners with a conceptual representation (i.e., a mental framework that helps learners organize ideas for cognitive off-loading yet effective retrieval even under novel conditions) and conceptual modeling tools allowed learners to reason about non-linear dynamics and across scales. Further, after working with climate scientists, RJ and colleagues have developed a theoretical framework by which authentic data could be paired with these reasoning and modeling tools. While assessment of this practice is ongoing, we will use this approach in the delivery and assessment of audience understanding of how temperature projections over the 21st century could help understand future biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems.