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Global imprint of climate change on marine life


Past meta-analyses of the response of marine organisms to climate change have examined a limited range of locations1,2, taxonomic groups2,3,4 and/or biological responses5,6. This has precluded a robust overview of the effect of climate change in the global ocean. Here, we synthesized all available studies of the consistency of marine ecological observations with expectations under climate change. This yielded a meta-database of 1,735 marine biological responses for which either regional or global climate change was considered as a driver. Included were instances of marine taxa responding as expected, in a manner inconsistent with expectations, and taxa demonstrating no response. From this database, 81–83% of all observations for distribution, phenology, community composition, abundance, demography and calcification across taxa and ocean basins were consistent with the expected impacts of climate change. Of the species responding to climate change, rates of distribution shifts were, on average, consistent with those required to track ocean surface temperature changes. Conversely, we did not find a relationship between regional shifts in spring phenology and the seasonality of temperature. Rates of observed shifts in species’ distributions and phenology are comparable to, or greater, than those for terrestrial systems.

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Figure 1: Global distribution and regional location of marine ecological climate-impact studies.
Figure 2: Global response rates to climate change by taxon.
Figure 3: Marine biological responses as a function of the velocity of climate change and seasonal climate shift.
Figure 4: Proportion of marine observations consistent with climate change predictions using observations from both single- and multispecies studies (all, n = 1,323) and multispecies studies alone (n = 1,151).

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This work was conducted as a part of the Understanding Marine Biological Impacts of Climate Change Working Group supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a centre funded by NSF (Grant #EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California.

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Authors and Affiliations



E.S.P. and A.J.R. led the NCEAS working group. E.S.P., A.J.R., C.J.B., P.J.M., S.A.T. and W.J.S. extracted data from publications for the database. E.S.P., A.J.R. and C.B. undertook quality-control of the database. E.S.P., C.P. and W.J.S. wrote the first draft of the paper. W.K., C.J.B., A.J.R., M.T.B., E.S.P. and D.S.S. ran analyses and produced figures and tables. All authors contributed equally to discussion of ideas, development of the database and analyses, and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Elvira S. Poloczanska or Christopher J. Brown.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Poloczanska, E., Brown, C., Sydeman, W. et al. Global imprint of climate change on marine life. Nature Clim Change 3, 919–925 (2013).

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