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Climate Change: Wide-Ranging Species Have an Edge in Warming Oceans

First Posted: Jul 21, 2015 09:10 AM EDT
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Not all animals are going to suffer from warming oceans. Scientists have found that marine species with large ranges will actually be able to extend their territories faster in response to climate change.

In order to see how traits might impact animals' ability to respond to climate change, the researchers looked at a global marine hotspot. They examined the fast-warming waters off of Australia's east coast. This particular stretch of ocean has been warming four times faster than the global average, and many marine species have been appearing further south than ever before.

The scientists factored in species traits along with predictions based on the warming pattern in the region. This allowed the researchers to double their ability to account for variation in range extensions.

"We have a bit of a mystery as to why some animals are moving quickly into cooler waters, like the green sea urchin that is decimating kelp forests in Tasmania, while other species aren't moving at all," said Jennifer Sunday, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "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. The flip side is that small-ranging species are in increased jeopardy as our planet's oceans continue to warm."

The researchers found that the yellowtail kingfish, the tiger shark, the short-tail stingray and the Maori wrasse were just some fish species that had the largest range shifts in the region. In contrast, the spotted handfish hasn't extended its range into cooling water despite shifting temperatures.

The findings reveal that different species may be more at risk than others when it comes to rising ocean temperatures. Some, though, appear to be able to adapt through the use of movement.

The findings are published in the journal Ecology Letters.

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