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Study sheds light on the ability of different marine species to respond to climate warming



IMAGE: This is a spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) -- one of several coastal species that has not extended its distributional range in Tasmania in recent decades, despite shifting isotherms. view more

Credit: Graham Edgar

In Eastern Australia, the ocean has been warming at a rate that's 4-times that of the global average. Many marine species have been appearing further south than they ever have before, while others have stayed put. A new study identifies which characteristics seem to be important for species to shift their ranges so quickly.

As expected, swimming ability is important, as fish are stretching their ranges south faster than organisms such as starfish and crustaceans. Researchers also found that animals that already have large range sizes are the most responsive and shift the fastest. "We think that this is because species with large ranges are habitat generalists, so their ranges are currently limited more by temperature and not by habitat, allowing them to move freely when temperature changes," said Dr. Jennifer Sunday, lead author of the Ecology Letters study.

The findings may be useful for improving global predictions of how different species will respond to climate change and for identifying those in greatest jeopardy due to their limited ability to escape warming.


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