Climate-induced changes put the future of coastal ecosystems at risk

For generations who grew up watching Finding Nemo, it’s perhaps no surprise that the west coast of North America has its own version of the undersea ocean highway – the California Current Marine Ecosystem (CCME). The CCME stretches from the southern tip of California to Washington. Seasonal updrafts of cold, nutrient-rich water are the backbone of a larger food web of krill, squid, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. However, climate change and subsequent shifts in ocean pH, temperature and oxygen levels are altering the CCME – and not in a good way.

New research by McGill University Biology Professor Jennifer Sunday and Washington Ocean Acidification Center Professor Terrie Klinger at the University of Washington’s EarthLab warns that climate impacts will significantly affect twelve economically and culturally significant species that will take up residence in the CCME over the next few years. 80 year. The northern part of this region and areas closer to shore will have the strongest responses in this context to changing ocean situations. The region can expect to see substantial loss of canopy-forming kelp, lower survival rates for red sea urchins, Dungeness crab and razor clams, and loss of aerobic habitat for anchovy and shrimp. pink.

The effects of climate change are complex

Assessment of the biological effects of several variables environmental studies at the same time shows the complexity of research on climate sensitivity. For example, while some anticipated environmental changes will boost metabolism and increase consumption and growth, accompanying changes in other, or even the same, variables could potentially reduce survival rates. Notably, physiological increases (such as size, consumption or motility) are not always beneficial, especially when resources – such as food and oxygenated water – are limited.

Of all the climate effects modeled, ocean acidification was associated with the largest decreases in individual biological rates in some species, but the largest increases in others. This result underscores the need for continued research and monitoring to provide accurate and actionable information.

Modeling is essential to safeguarding coastal ecosystems and future of fisheries

Investing in predictive models and implementing adaptation strategies will be increasingly essential to safeguard our ecosystems, coastal cultures and livelihoods at the community level. Similar challenges will be faced by species not addressed in this study, and responses will be complicated by the arrival of invasive species, disease outbreaks and future changes in nutrient supply.

These species sensitivities will likely have socio-economic consequences felt across the West Coast, but they will likely not affect everyone and all places in the same way. Because the area is so successful, supporting the fisheries and livelihoods of tens of millions of West Coast residents, the ability to predict population level changes for a range of species likely to be affected should shed light on potential economic impacts and optimal adaptive capacity. measures for the future.

“The second came from accelerate science-based action,” says Jennifer Sunday, assistant professor in McGill’s Department of Biology and first author of the paper. It echoes messages from the recent 2022 UN Ocean Conference and associated WOAC side event. “The integration of scientific information, predictive models and monitoring tools into local and regional decision-making can promote marine resource management and contribute to human well-being as we face inevitable changes in marine life that sustains us.”

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