A recent meta-analysis of the impacts of climate change on marine life, published in the journal Nature Climate Change (subscription required), would be an excellent reading in a climate impacts module. The study built upon previous meta-analyses that assessed only a limited range of locations, taxonomic groups and biological responses by synthesizing the result of all available studies of the correlation of marine ecological observations and climate change. The study utilized observations that spanned 30 years or more and “diagnostic footprints” including opposing responses in warm-water and cool-water species, species responses at leading and trailing range ranges and similar responses from discrete populations at the same range edge.
Among the study’s findings:
- While the ocean’s thermal capacity has limited warming to approximately one third of that observed in air temperatures over land over the past 50 years, isotherms at the ocean surface have migrated at comparable or faster rates than over land;
- There have been marked phenological responses of many marine species, with the fastest range of spring advancement among invertebrate zooplankton and larval bony fish. However, both phyto and zooplankton groups demonstrate slow and similar advancement of summer phenology, indicating that “temporal mismatches” between food requirements and availability have developed;
- 83% of observed biological changes in observed marine species were consistent with the direction predicted by climatic models, well outside the changes expected by chance.
This reading could generate some good class discussion, including potential adaptive management strategies and the reasons for the variable responses demonstrated by many species in the study.