New papers highlighting ecoevolutionary adaptation to climate change

Two new papers from the lab discuss how best to understand, and to mitigate, the effects of climate change by applying ecoevolutionary theory.

The first, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2022.04.011) proposes that dominant ecoevolutionary processes for coping with climate change differ among terrestrial, freshwater, and marine taxa, but that a unified framework, spanning realms, is needed to fully understand them. The review was authored by Malin and coauthors Lise Comte (Illinois State U.) and Dov Sax (Brown U.).

The second, published in Ecological Applications (doi: 10.1002/eap.2650), investigated the merits of two restoration strategies for corals in a changing ocean: ‘demographic restoration’, in which coral is grown elsewhere and transplanted to a site; and ‘assisted evolution’, in which tolerant genotypes are transplanted. This paper, led by Lukas DeFilippo (NOAA) and coauthored by several current and former Pinsky lab members, used an ecoevolutionary simulation model to tackle the question. The model revealed that realistic levels of ‘demographic restoration’ offered little benefit, while transplanting thermally resistant corals helped, but only if maintained for a century. The study concluded that restoration approaches focused on building genetic variation would likely work better by allowing corals to naturally adapt to warming temperatures over time.

Two perspective pieces in Science

A snippet of the second article, coauthored with Alexa Fredston.
Crab photo: Pascal Kobeh/Minden Pictures.

Malin has coauthored two new perspective pieces in Science.

The first, with Nina Therkildsen of Cornell, highlights the underappreciated effects of fishing on evolutionary dynamics within (and among) exploited species. The second, with Alexa Fredston, discusses the stark choice we face between runaway climate change and a likely marine mass extinction on the one hand, and a much less consequential 2 degree rise in global temperatures on the other.

The second article was picked by the Washington Post, Inside Climate News, and National Geographic.

New paper: predator-prey interactions are key to predicting fish responses to climate change

Screenshot from a press release on the paper (link below).

A new paper by lab members suggests that predator-prey interactions will complicate species’ ability to track their climate niches poleward in warming oceans. The upshot could be less productive fisheries in a warmer world.

Former postdoc Ed Tekwa, along with James Watson (Oregon State) and Malin Pinsky, developed a spatial food-web model that considers species’ size, metabolism, preferred temperatures, and other factors. Trophic interactions (considerations of “who eats who”) are expected to hamper species’ ability to shift in response to warming temperatures. One interesting prediction of the model is that the trailing edges of top predator ranges are expected to shift slower than the ranges of their smaller prey.

The work was recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It was also picked up by the BBC World Service (story at time: 26:30 – 29:50), WHYY, and was the subject of a Rutgers press release.

FishGlob meets!

After many Zoom meetings, members of the Pinsky Lab finally got to meet in person with the FishGlob group!

After multiple years of Zoom meetings, postdoc Alexa Fredston, grad student Zoë Kitchel, and Malin met in person with the FishGlob consortium this past week. The working group, funded by the Centre for the Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity (CESAB), aims to bring together data from bottom trawl surveys to ask questions about the intersections among climate, fishing, and fish biodiversity at the global scale. Researchers from Colombia, Canada, the US, and France descended upon Montpellier, France to discuss how to effectively unify and standardize datasets, how to identify and understand changes (or not!) in biodiversity across ecosystems through time, and how to most effectively share data and results with a wide audience. Malin shared details about the future of Ocean Adapt, which currently allows users to see visual representations of bottom trawl data for the US and Canada. Alexa showed that marine heatwaves do not seem to have as large of an impact on biomass or community structure as we anticipated. Zoë revealed how both fishing pressure and temperature shape patterns in spatial beta-diversity of fish communities. Between meetings, the team found time for some delicious food and a group trip to the seaside fishing city of Sète where they dipped toes in the Mediterranean Sea, took a stroll along the fishing docks, and enjoyed some local oysters and sea urchins for lunch!

Commentary on Payne et al. article assessing socio-ecological climate risks for European fisheries is available now in PNAS.

(A) Climate risk assessments at finer spatial scales (Right) can reveal heterogeneity and substantially more extreme risks for particular regions or groups that would not be visible in coarse assessments (Left). (B) Climate risk can be defined as the intersection of high climate hazards, high exposure to those hazards, and high vulnerability (i.e., low capacity for adapting to climate hazards). Fishing boat by Martin LeBreton from the Noun Project, which is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Malin Pinsky’s commentary on recent work in PNAS by Payne et al. (read full article here) highlights the paper’s contributions on the less visible vulnerabilities embedded within European fisheries. These fisheries have been overlooked from a climate risk perspective because they are less critical to the regional economy and food supply chain than fisheries of other world regions. Conducting fine-scale climate risk assessments (below the national level), Payne et al. use qualitative approaches to index exposure, hazard, and vulnerability. Their work documents that certain communities and certain fleets have greater exposure to risk than course-scale national data would suggest. The analysis reveals highly uneven geographic patterns of vulnerability apparently driven both by ecological and human social factors. A key recommendation from Payne et al. , according to Pinsky, is that climate risk can be reduced for many fisheries through greater diversification across a wider variety of target species. 

Read full article here

McLean et al. study on shifts in thermal affinity of marine communities is available in the November 8 issue of Current Biology.

Maps showing the rate of change in SST and CTI along with differences in the strength of the underlying processes. A and B: Rate of change in SST (A) and CTI (B) across the 558 grid cells for the period 1990– 2015. C and D: Differences in the strength of tropicalization and deborealization in grid cells where CTI increased (C), and differences in the strength of borealization and detropicalization in grid cells where CTI decreased (D).

Matthew McLean collaborated with nine other researchers across Europe and North America, including Malin Pinsky, to coauthor this study on community change in marine environments. Their report appears in the November 8 issue of Current Biology. Although past studies have documented extensive shifts in community temperature index (CTI), this study uniquely decomposes CTI into four underlying processes at a multi-continental scale (tropicalization—increasing abundance of warm-affinity species; deborealization—decreasing abundance of cold-affinity speciesd; borealization—increasing abundance of cold-affinity species; detropicalization—decreasing abundance of warm-affinity species). Using long-term monitoring of marine fishes across the Northern Hemisphere, McLean et al. show that one-third of increases in mean thermal affinity were primarily due to decreases in cold-affinity species. Cold-affinity decreases were stronger closer to human population centers; warm-affinity increases were stronger in warmer areas. These findings will help in anticipating future changes in biodiversity under climate change and implementing adapted management strategies.

Read full article here

Zoë Kitchel and Doug Zemeckis publish climate change and NJ fisheries bulletin!

Figure 3.
Shifts in the center of fall distribution of black sea bass (upper) and summer flounder (lower) along the northeast U.S. continental shelf from the 1970s through 2018. Data are based on the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s fall bottom trawl surveys. Source:

Pinsky Lab PhD candidate, Zoë Kitchel, and Rutgers Cooperative Extension Agent, Doug Zemeckis, authored a bulletin in Rutgers’ Cooperative Extension Bulletin on the impacts of climate change on New Jersey’s marine fisheries. The bulletin breaks down this issue for a general audience and packs the information into ~3 pages. With a quick read, you will become acquainted with climate change, its causes, effects on the ocean, and its impacts on marine life and fisheries.

Read the bulletin here!

Planning Ahead Protects Fish and Fisheries: Pinsky et al. paper out in Science Advances

Effective planning for climate change helps avoid conflicts over ocean uses

[From press release by Todd Bates]

Conservation of fish and other marine life migrating from warming ocean waters will be more effective and also protect commercial fisheries if plans are made now to cope with climate change, according to a study Malin led in the journal Science Advances in collaboration with Lauren Rogers (Alaska Fisheries Science Center), former postdoc Jim Morley (now East Carolina University), and Thomas Frölicher (University of Bern).

The project focused on costs and benefits of planning ahead for the impacts of climate change on marine species distributions. We simulated the ocean planning process in the United States and Canada for conservation zones, fishing zones and wind and wave energy development zones. We then looked at nearly 12,000 different projections for where 736 species around North America will move during the rest of this century. We also looked at potential tradeoffs between meeting conservation and sustainable fishing goals now versus in 80 years.

We were worried that planning ahead would require setting aside a lot more of the ocean for conservation or for fishing, but we found that was not the case. Instead, fishing and conservation areas can be set up like hopscotch boxes so fish and other animals can shift from one box into another as they respond to climate change. We found that simple changes to ocean plans can make them much more robust to future changes. In other words, planning ahead can help society avoid conflicts.

Take home message: while climate change will severely disrupt many human activities and complete climate-proofing is impossible, proactively planning for long-term ocean change across a wide range of sectors is likely to provide substantial benefits.

Read the paper here in Science Advances.

Characterizing uncertainty in climate impact projections: Morley et al. paper out in ICES JoMS

Ensemble mean projections across 18 Earth system models and 6 niche models for the RCP 8.5 scenario for Pacific halibut (a, b), Pacific ocean perch (c, d), summer flounder (e, f), and American lobster (g, h). For each species, the left panel shows projected suitable habitat for the initial time period of 2007–2020, and the intensity of the blue represents habitat suitability while grey represents areas of the projection grid that are not suitable. The right panels show projected change in habitat suitability between the 2081–2100 time period and 2007–2020. For the right panels, red represents a decline in habitat suitability, blue represents increases in habitat suitability, and grey represents areas of no change; increasing intensity of blue (red) represents a proportionally greater increase (decrease) in habitat suitability.

Former Pinsky Lab Post-doc, Dr. Jim Morley, collaborator, Dr. Thomas Fro¨licher, and Dr. Malin Pinsky assessed and quantified the uncertainty in climate impact projections in their new paper out in ICES Journal of Marine Science. Using a case study approach, the team conducted 8964 unique projections for shifts in suitable habitat of seven important marine species occurring on the North American continental shelf, including American Lobster, Pacific Halibut, Pacific Ocean Perch, and Summer Flounder. They found that projection uncertainty arose from Earth system models (ESMs), and the niche modelling approach used to represent species distributions for all species, but variation associated with the parameter values in niche models was insignificant. Greenhouse gas emissions scenario contributed to uncertainty for projections at the century scale. The characteristics of projection uncertainty differed among species and also varied spatially, which underscores the need for improved multi-model approaches with a suite of ESMs and niche models forming the basis for uncertainty around projected impacts. Ensemble projections show the potential for major shifts in future distributions. Therefore, rigorous future projections are important for informing climate adaptation efforts.

Read the full article here.