Thermal affinities and temperature gradients explain how warming changes ocean community composition: Burrows et al. 2019, Nature Climate Change

Figure 1, c-f (Burrows et al. 2019) Thermal characteristics in simulated pools of species varying in thermal diversity (high: c and d; low: e and f) and species’ thermal ranges [STR] (narrow: c and e; wide: d and f), showing subsets forming communities at a mean annual sea temperature of 15 °C.

A new paper published in Nature Climate Change by Dr. Michael Burrows et al., with contributions from Dr. Ryan Batt (former Pinsky Lab postdoc) and Dr. Malin Pinsky, used 29 years of fish and plankton survey data to assess how warming is changing marine communities’ composition and structure. They found that “warm-water species are rapidly increasing and cold-water species are decreasing” as ocean waters warm. Informed by species’ incidence, and changes in sea surface temperature (SST), the team created measures of species’ thermal affinities, community composition, and other summary metrics. They used these to measure community-level change in thermal affinity and composition.

Regions with relatively stable temperatures (e.g. the Northeast Pacific and Gulf of Mexico) showed little change in structure, while areas that warmed (e.g. the North Atlantic) shifted strongly towards warm-water species dominance. They also found that communities whose species pools had diverse thermal affinities and a narrower range of thermal tolerance showed greater sensitivity to change.

Next, they found that communities in regions with strong temperature depth gradients changed less than expected. In these regions, rather than moving horizontally through the water, species can instead move deeper to maintain their preferred temperature.

They concluded that this evidence strongly supports temperature as a fundamental driver of change in marine systems, and that metrics based on species’ thermal affinities are useful tools to predict and provide prognoses for community dominance shifts.

Check out press coverage of the article below:

Conservation planning for species evolving with climate change: new article in Nature Climate Change

A coral reef off Cuatros Islas in the Philippines.
Photo: Michelle Stuart/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Drs. Timothy Walsworth, Daniel Schindler, Madhavi Colton, Michael Webster,  Stephen Palumbi, Peter Mumby, Timothy Essington, and Malin Pinsky authored a paper exploring the efficacy of various management strategies to protect species in the face of warming ocean temperatures. While previous research addressed where to establish protected areas, nearly all studies overlooked the fact that most species can also evolve in response to climate change, despite growing evidence that rapid evolutionary response can occur. The paper focused in particular on corals.

The team evaluated a range of potential conservation strategies, including protecting: 1) the hottest 2) the coldest and 3) both the hottest and coldest sites at the time of site selection; sites with the 4) highest and 5) lowest abundance at the time of site selection; 6) sites that are evenly spaced across the entire network, and 7) randomly selected sites about the networks. The researchers found that strategies conserving many different kinds of sites would work best (e.g. 6 and 7).

“Rather than conserving just the cold places with corals, we found that the best strategies will conserve a wide diversity of sites,” Malin explained. “Hot reefs are important sources of heat-tolerant corals, while cold sites and those in between are important future refuges and stepping stones for corals as the water heats up.”

Click to read the full article

Press coverage:

Climate Change Threatens Commercial Fishers From Maine to North Carolina – Rogers et al. article in Nature Climate Change

Lobster boats anchored off Cutler, Maine.
Photo: Malin Pinsky/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Drs. Lauren Rogers, Robert Griffin, Talia Young, Emma Fuller, Kevin St. Martin, and Malin Pinsky collaborated on a paper which seeks to understand how climate change will likely affect the fishing opportunities for 85 communities in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. The team integrated climatic, ecological and socio-economic data to identify where strategies for adapting to the ecological impacts of climate change will be most needed. They used 13 global climate models to project how ocean temperatures are likely to change, then examined ocean temperatures and types of bottom habitat to determine where important commercial fisheries species are likely to move. They also looked at whether the species caught by fishing communities are likely to become more or less abundant in the ocean regions where they typically fish.

Read more about the paper from the news outlets below:

Climate Change Hits Sea Creatures Hardest: Malin et al.’s new paper in Nature [edit: and the cover!]

Pinsky et al. 2019 makes the cover of Nature!

Malin and coauthors, Drs. Anna Eikeset, Doug McCauley, Jonathan Payne, and Jennifer Sunday, published a paper on April 24th, 2019 on the vulnerability of marine versus terrestrial ectotherms. While the vulnerability of marine and terrestrial fauna have each been studied in isolation, a direct comparison of marine and terrestrial organisms physiological sensitivity to warming has yet to occur.

The team used species’ thermal safety margin (the difference between the hottest temperature that an organism can safely tolerate, and its hottest hourly body temperature when in the coolest part of their environment) as a tool to directly compare ocean and land dwelling species. This metric approximates the amount of additional warming a species can tolerate. They calculated this metric for 88 marine and 299 terrestrial species, and found that marine species are more likely to live close to their upper thermal limit than terrestrial species. Terrestrial species also have greater access to thermal refugia (cooler places found within their habitat), such as shaded or subterranean areas. Both of these factors make marine organisms more sensitive to warming than their terrestrial counterparts.

Click here to read the full paper (free access here), and here to read the Rutgers press release.

Key figure from Pinsky et al. 2019

Additional Press Coverage:

Fisheries’ decline due to ocean warming published in Science

Chris Free, Malin, Olaf Jensen, and co-authors recently published an article on fisheries decline in Science. The study found that climate change has already taken a toll on many of the world’s fisheries, and overfishing has magnified the problem. Ocean warming led to an estimated 4.1 percent drop in sustainable catches, on average, for many species of fish and shellfish from 1930 to 2010. In five regions of the world, including the East China Sea and North Sea, the estimated decline was 15 percent to 35 percent, the study says.

The team combined global data on fisheries with ocean temperature maps to estimate temperature-driven changes in the the maximum sustainable yield from 1930 to 2010. Their analysis covered about one third of the reported global catch, and losing species outweighed the winners as the oceans warmed.

Haddock in the North Sea are among the climate change “losers” as a result of warming ocean temperatures. Photo: NEFSC/NOAA Scientists at Rutgers–New Brunswick and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied the impact of ocean warming on 235 populations of 124 species in 38 ecological regions around the world. Species included fish, crustaceans such as shrimp, and mollusks such as sea scallops. High Res

Press coverage:

Reuters in-depth reporting highlights our work

Reuters released the results of a more than year-long investigation into climate change, fish, and fisheries called Ocean Shock that we supported throughout. The data in their visualizations are from OceanAdapt and their summer flounder story builds from our NSF-funded Coastal SEES research with Kevin St. Martin, Bonnie McCay, Eli Fenichel, and Simon Levin. We’re all excited to see Mo Tamman and the rest of the team’s wonderful storytelling and science communication skills brought to bear on this important issue!

Science Policy Forum: climate change may spark global fish conflict

Our paper in Science out today, “Preparing ocean governance for species on the move” is available here or in Spanish here.

News coverage:

Warming Waters Push Fish To Cooler Climes, Out Of Some Fishermen’s Reach: Paper in PLOS ONE by Jim, Becca, and Malin!

Jim, Becca, and Malin’s paper, Projecting shifts in thermal habitat for 686 species on the North American continental shelf, was published in PLOS ONE last week (and featured in their Climate Change Channel). The paper details how species’ habitat will shift to cooler waters in the face of climate change.

Researchers projected the habitat shifts under a high-emissions scenario and a low-emissions scenario.

Press coverage included