Marine travellers best able to adapt to climate change

Species’ ranges are shifting globally in response to the warming climate and marine organisms that have large ranges are extending their territories further and faster in response, a new study suggests.

The new research conducted by the University of Southampton and an international team of scientists has shown that, as expected, species that have large latitudinal ranges are able to make their way to cooler waters whereas small-ranging species such as crustaceans and echinoderms are in increased jeopardy as our oceans continue to warm.

Our findings indicate that animals which already have wide-latitudinal ranges, habitat generalists, and species with high adult mobility displayed the quickest and greatest range shifts,” says University of British Columbia biodiversity researcher Dr Jennifer Sunday, lead author of the study.

The team identified that omnivores and species with high adult mobility have shown faster range extensions, with omnivorous species thought to exhibit increased range due to higher chances of finding suitable food resources in new locations. High mobility species including fish and marine mammals that posses the ability to swim are stretching their ranges south faster than benthic organisms such as starfish.

Tiger sharks, short-tail stingrays and urchins were shown to exhibit high ranges

Tiger sharks, short-tail stingrays and urchins were shown to exhibit high ranges

For their investigation, the team based their research off Australia’s east coast where the ocean has been warming four times faster than the global average and many marine species have been appearing further south than ever before. The tiger shark, short-tail stingray and barren-forming urchin were some of the species with the largest range shifts in the region. Filter-feeding barnacles (omnivores that are notoriously invasive) also displayed some of the largest expansions of territory.

The study is among the first to comprehensively look at how a marine animal’s traits impact their ability to respond to climate change and highlights the importance of biology as a predictive tool,” says Dr Amanda Bates from the University of Southampton, who co-led the workshop that developed the idea for the study.

The findings, which have been published in Ecology Letters, may be useful for improving global predictions of how different species will respond to climate change and for identifying those in greatest jeopardy due to their limited ability to escape warming. Through understanding the pattern of variation and identifying where and when species will respond to climate change through range shifts, it is possible to manage proactively for changes in resource-based human livelihoods and to meet conservation goals. 
– JK

Article Reference:
  1. Jennifer M. Sunday, Gretta T. Pecl, Stewart Frusher, Alistair J. Hobday, Nicole Hill, Neil J. Holbrook, Graham J. Edgar, Rick Stuart-Smith, Neville Barrett, Thomas Wernberg, Reg A. Watson, Dan A. Smale, Elizabeth A. Fulton, Dirk Slawinski, Ming Feng, Ben T. Radford, Peter A. Thompson, Amanda E. Bates. Species traits and climate velocity explain geographic range shifts in an ocean-warming hotspot. Ecology Letters, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12474

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