A Southern Illinois University (SIU) professor is contributing to a congressional climate change report’s assessment of U.S. ecosystems.

Mandated by Congress, the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) will cover climate change impacts, risks and adaptation across the country and involve 13 federal agencies and hundreds of governmental, academic, nonprofit and private sector experts.

Kofi Akamani, an associate professor in the SIU School of Agricultural Sciences, focuses on adaptive governance of forests and water resources in the U.S., especially southern Illinois, and Ghana. Akamani told FarmWeek one of his goals is to provide decision makers with information to help ecosystems that he defined as the interaction of living things, including humans, plants and animals, with their physical environment.

“Climate changes will effect individual species’ behavior and how they interact with other species and the ecosystem,” Akamani said. Increases in temperatures likely will bring not only transformation, but also unfamiliar outcomes, he added.

Akamani highlighted possible pollination impacts as an example. Consider increased temperatures beyond the traditional growing season or the ideal for a growing crop. An early arrival of spring affects birds and insects and can disrupt plants and pollinators.

Changes in precipitation and drought occurrences mean not only will crops be adapted to grow, but undesirable species will also be affected, Akamani noted.

And some impacted places may be less able to change, according to the researcher. “Most farming communities are small, rural and don’t have as many resources,” making it more difficult to adapt or invest in new technology for different farming practices, Akamani said.

Adaptative governance, whose concepts began in the ‘70s, emphasizes learning, science and resource management. However, “a focus on science without decision makers leads to failure,” Akamani said. Considerations must be broad and include stakeholders, he added.

Asked for examples of adaptive governance of ecosystems, Akamani mentioned case studies in Sweden and Australia. “In the United States, the ingredients are there, but it is hard to point to one. We have all we need to manage more broadly ... and move to more collaboration to deal with conflict,” he said. Within U.S. agriculture, Akamani viewed some farm bill initiatives, like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, as moving closer to adaptive governance management. “We’re beginning to see landscape-scale conservation, the regional approach,” he said.

For his own research, Akamani is working collaboratively in the Cache River Watershed on adaptive governance principles. Part of the project is learning about the resilience of watershed communities, how they could respond to climate changes and the characteristics that can help communities deal with specific challenges, such as flooding, droughts and wildfires.

For SIU and Illinois, Akamani’s participation in a premier federal report on climate change is “affirmation of the work we are doing at SIU and on the national level and is receiving the attention of other academics,” the researcher said. It presents an opportunity for him and his students to learn from other experts and to bring those lessons back to the classroom, he added.

Akamani and his fellow authors on the ecosystem chapter revised their outline, based agency and public feedback after it was published in the Federal Register. A draft of the chapter also will be reviewed and published in the Federal Register before publication. NCA5 is expected to be published in fall 2023.