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Research predicts changes for marine life

Marine life will be thrown into chaos by ocean warming by the year 2100, according to a new international study co-authored by a University of the Sunshine Coast expert in quantitative ecology.

USC researcher and Associate Professor of Biostatistics Dr Dave Schoeman said the study predicted a massive reorganisation of marine species by the end of this century. Species losses in waters near the equator would contrast with far richer biodiversity in other ocean regions.

The paper, ‘Climate velocity and the future global redistribution of marine biodiversity’, involved 10 global scientists including Associate Professor Schoeman. It is expected to be published next Tuesday, 1 September, in the journal ‘Nature Climate Change’. The journal has posted a video about the research.

Our modelling suggests that there is still time to act to prevent major climate-related biodiversity loss outside of the tropics,” Associate Professor Schoeman said.

“Possibly more worrying, though, is the imminent development of new combinations of species in ocean systems around the world. We have little idea of how these novel groupings will affect ecosystem services, like fisheries. We should be prioritising ecological research aimed specifically at addressing this question.”

He said the paper applied the theoretical results from the team’s previous study of climate change velocity to 12,796 marine species, including fish, corals, jellies, crabs, shrimps, snails, clams and seaweeds.

It modelled two scenarios – one where the world actively mitigated climate change over the coming decades and one where it did nothing – and found that taking action was likely to prevent some climate-driven extinctions, but not the wholesale movement of species altogether.

“In line with our projections, we’re already seeing numerous studies reporting early examples of climate-driven shifts in marine species’ distributions along Australia’s southeast coast,” Associate Professor Schoeman said.

Results identified several areas for urgent conservation efforts under two categories.

“First, in the polar coastal regions, where human pressures are low but anticipated climate-driven biodiversity change is high, conservation actions could focus on restricting the potential impact of developing marine industries,” he said.

“Second, in areas like the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Atlantic around the UK, where human pressures are high and significant biodiversity change is expected, conservation could focus on easing existing threats to key species and restoring damaged habitats.

“While Australian waters aren’t highlighted among the most urgent concerns in this regard, our results suggest that the ocean immediately to our north, including the Coral Triangle, will need active and sustained conservation efforts if it is to avoid significant loss of biodiversity, and possibly ecosystem services.”

USC Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Roland De Marco said: “The University is thrilled to be part of this seminal research that is making a significant difference to the mitigation of climate change, which is arguably the biggest challenge facing the planet in the 21st century.

“Associate Professor Schoeman and his internationally-renowned team are getting their work published in broad interest and high-ranked journals such as ‘Science’, ‘Nature’ and ‘Nature Climate Change’, thereby reaching and influencing key people within the international community.”

The study was funded by a UK National Environmental Research Council grant, with Associate Professor Schoeman’s participation supported by USC’s Collaborative Research Network through its Water Sciences Group.

— Julie Schomberg

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