Warming seas could fundamentally alter marine ecosystems, study finds

STATEN ISLAND, NY – Rising global temperatures spurred by human-made greenhouse gas emissions could destabilize the marine food web and prevent fish – especially predators – from keeping up with a rapidly changing ecosystem, say researchers.

The Rutgers University study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, created a model that analyzed predator and prey interactions over a 200-year period of warming. He found that top predators were in particular trouble as more abundant fish left their historic range to try to adapt to warming seas.

These same fish targeted by commercial fishing are also unlikely to be as abundant in their new geographic locations, the research has shown, which could pose a threat to the market.

“What this suggests from a fisheries perspective is that while the species we fish today will be there tomorrow, they won’t be there in the same abundance,” study co-author Malin Pinsky, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Naturalness at Rutgers. Resources, said in a statement. “In such a context, overfishing becomes easier because population growth rates are low.”

“Warming coupled with food web dynamics will be like putting marine biodiversity in a blender,” Pinsky added.

By taking into account both climate change and marine life metrics, such as metabolism and body size, the researchers were able to see how food web interactions were hampered by climate change.

Large predators have been observed to move their geographic ranges more slowly than climate change progresses, the new research has shown, because larger predators typically stay in historic habitats longer than smaller prey.

“That dynamic will not just be in one place but globally,” Pinsky added. “That doesn’t bode well for marine life, and it’s not a widely recognized effect.”

The Rutgers researchers said that while previous studies have focused on the impact of climate change on individual species, food web interactions are rarely studied. A 2020 study found that algae bloomed in greater abundance in warmer conditions while certain species of fish decreased in number, creating difficulties for predators.

The latest findings suggest a disrupted food web will emerge as temperatures insidiously rise.

“The model suggests that over the next 200 years of warming, species will continually reshuffle and be shifting their ranges,” said lead author EW Tekwa, a former Rutgers postdoc in ecology. , evolution and natural resources now at the University of British Columbia. “Even after 200 years, marine species will still lag behind temperature changes, and this is especially true for those at the top of the food chain.”