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Nature & Environment Climate Change Warms Oceans: Marine Species Drastically Shift

Climate Change Warms Oceans: Marine Species Drastically Shift

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First Posted: Aug 05, 2013 11:44 AM EDT
Madagascar Fishermen
As the climate changes and oceans warm, different species are adapting to the new conditions. Now, researchers have discovered that the warmer temperatures are causing marine species to change their breeding times and shift their homes. (Photo : Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)

As the climate changes and oceans warm, different species are adapting to the new conditions. Now, researchers have discovered that the warmer temperatures are causing marine species to change their breeding times and shift their homes. This could have broad implications not only for ocean ecosystems, but could also drastically impact fisheries and nations that rely on this industry.

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In order to examine how climate change might affect fish populations, the researchers conducted a three-year research project that assembled a large database of 1,735 changes in marine life. They examined global peer-reviewed literature and, in the end, found that 81 percent of changes were in a direction that was consistent with climate change.

"This is the first comprehensive documentation of what is happening in our marine systems in relation to climate change," said Camille Parmesan, one of the researchers, in a news release. "What it reveals is that the changes that are occurring on land are being matched by the oceans. And far from being a buffer and displaying more minor changes, what we're seeing is a far stronger response from the oceans."

What did they find? It turns out that many species are shifting north. In fact, the leading edge or "front line" of phytoplankton, zooplankton and bony fish is moving toward the poles at an average rate of 45 miles per decade--far faster than the terrestrial average of four miles per decade. In addition, the scientists found that breeding has advanced by more than four days in the spring. That's nearly twice the figure for the same advancement on land.

"Most of the effects we saw were as expected from changes in climate," said Mike Burrows at SAMS in a news release. "So, most shifts in the distributions of, say, fishes and corals, were towards the poles, and most events in springtime, like spawning, were earlier."

The findings reveal that despite warming more slowly than the surrounding air, the ocean is experiencing some drastic shifts in species populations. The research shows the urgent need for action when it comes to climate change, and may allow officials to better predict where species will be in the future.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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