Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface, yet our knowledge of the impact of climate change on marine habitats is a mere drop in the proverbial ocean compared to terrestrial systems. An international team of scientists set out to change that by conducting a global meta-analysis of climate change impacts on marine systems.
Counter to previous thinking, marine species are shifting their geographic distribution toward the poles and doing so much faster than their land-based counterparts. The findings were published in Nature Climate Change.
The three-year study, conducted by a working group of UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and funded by the National Science Foundation, shows that warming oceans are causing marine species to change breeding, feeding, and migration timing as well as shift where they live. Widespread systemic shifts in measures such as distribution of species and phenology—the timing of nature's calendar—are on a scale comparable to or greater than those observed on land.
"The leading edge or front-line of marine species distributions is moving toward the poles at an average of 72 kilometers (about 45 miles) per decade—considerably faster than terrestrial species, which are moving poleward at an average of 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) per decade," said lead author Elvira Poloczanska, a research scientist with Australia's national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industr...