"Better predictive models will lead to better decisions in terms of protecting the natural resources future generations will rely on for quality of life and prosperity," Barnosky said.

The team suggests climate changes that will occur in the years ahead will bring many changes to the biosphere, taxing local resources and threatening changes in socio-economic conditions around the world.

“We need to understand how plants and animals responded to major shifts in the atmosphere, oceans and climate in the past, so that scientists can improve their forecasts and policy makers can take the steps necessary to either mitigate or adapt to changes that may be inevitable," Barnosky said. “The result of such a major shift in the biosphere would be mixed with some plant and animal species disappearing, new mixes of remaining species, and major disruptions in terms of which agricultural crops can grow where.”

Scientists say currently, to support a population of 7 billion people, about 43 percent of Earth's land surface has been converted to agricultural or urban use, with roads cutting through much of the remainder. The population is expected to rise to 9 billion by 2045; at that rate, current trends suggest that half of Earth's land surface will be disturbed by 2025. To Barnosky, this is disturbingly close to what he calls a global “tipping point.”

The Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, or BiGCB, is a massive undertaking involving more than 100 UC Berkeley scientists from an extraordinary range of disciplines that already has received funding. According to Berkeley officials, the type of work being recommended in the paper is currently underway.

"UC Berkeley is uniquely positioned to conduct this sort of complex, multi-disciplinary research," Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley's vice chancellor for research said in the ScienceDaily interview. "Our world-class museums hold a treasure trove of biological specimens dating back many millennia that tell the story of how our planet has reacted to climate change in the past.”

Fleming says a distinguished faculty will employ every effort to better predict the changes and impact expected when the planet reaches its tipping point.