Study shows major changes in marine biology

A new study shows how the impacts of ocean warming will only exacerbate the unprecedented marine biological changes that have occurred over the past decade, which could have a major impact on global aquaculture.

Only a tiny fraction of the ocean is currently monitored for the effects of climate change, limiting the ability to predict its implications for marine biodiversity. Now, thanks to a new model, an international team of marine scientists, led by Europe, including scientists from the Marine Biology Association (MBA), Plymouth University and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)– explains changes in marine communities on a global scale and predicts that increasing temperature will lead to major biological changes in the marine realm.

The model (based on the Macroecological Theory of the Arrangement of Life, or METAL) is capable of remarkably accurate predictions of observed long-term fluctuations, including the identification of well-documented abrupt and widespread changes in marine ecosystems (to late 1980s and late 1990s). The model identified that an unprecedented and massive change in ocean populations occurred from 2010 to 2015 (see Figure 1), which the authors say could have substantial ecological consequences across the globe.

The model was cross-validated against 14 multi-decadal time series that sampled marine organisms from zooplankton to fish, from the continental shelf to the deep sea and across all latitudes.

There are now a number of large described changes in coral ecosystems, plankton, seabirds, macroalgae (algae) and fish that provide evidence of the magnitude of responses to higher temperatures and confirm the impact. of these changes in ecosystems. Parallel and independent studies on marine heatwaves also confirm the exceptional character and the impact on ecosystems of the post-2010 period.

Main author, Grégory Beaugrand of the Scientific Research National Center, University of Lille, France, and the MBA said: “Observations from marine biological monitoring programs and theoretical predictions from the METAL model show similar patterns of change. Our model can provide early warning signals of changes in the state of marine biological systems in all oceans. “

In particular, co-author Martin Edwards of the MBA and Plymouth University mentions that “Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey (CPR), the largest plankton monitoring program in the world, shows long-term planktonic changes strongly correlated with the predictions of this model ”.

Chris Reid, also from Plymouth University and MBA, said: “Our results indicate that global warming could lead to an increase in the size and impact of future abrupt changes in the community and the associated consequences for communities. ecosystem services and living marine resources. This in itself is of considerable concern to marine species, communities and ecosystems. “

PML co-author Angus Atkinson contributed to a long antarctic time series to this analysis by saying: “At the large time and space scales that we examined, most of the variability in species abundance was explained by environmental temperature and its effects on the temperature tolerance of individuals. . This offers a welcome degree of simplification to our understanding of complex food webs. ”

Angus Atkinson added: “Marine surveillance programs such as the CPR investigation and multinational data rescue initiatives such as KRILLBASE, remain crucial to understanding changes in ecosystem functioning, fisheries and the global carbon cycle.

The study is new in its overall scale and in how the preferred temperature range of marine species has been incorporated into it. This approach paved the way for exploring the influence of future temperature changes on marine populations globally.

The research paper, “Predicting Unprecedented Biological Changes in the Global Ocean”, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, is available here.

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