Letter | Published:

Climate velocity and the future global redistribution of marine biodiversity

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 8388 (2016) | Download Citation


Anticipating the effect of climate change on biodiversity, in particular on changes in community composition, is crucial for adaptive ecosystem management1 but remains a critical knowledge gap2. Here, we use climate velocity trajectories3, together with information on thermal tolerances and habitat preferences, to project changes in global patterns of marine species richness and community composition under IPCC Representative Concentration Pathways4 (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5. Our simple, intuitive approach emphasizes climate connectivity, and enables us to model over 12 times as many species as previous studies5,6. We find that range expansions prevail over contractions for both RCPs up to 2100, producing a net local increase in richness globally, and temporal changes in composition, driven by the redistribution rather than the loss of diversity. Conversely, widespread invasions homogenize present-day communities across multiple regions. High extirpation rates are expected regionally (for example, Indo-Pacific), particularly under RCP8.5, leading to strong decreases in richness and the anticipated formation of no-analogue communities where invasions are common. The spatial congruence of these patterns with contemporary human impacts7,8 highlights potential areas of future conservation concern. These results strongly suggest that the millennial stability of current global marine diversity patterns, against which conservation plans are assessed, will change rapidly over the course of the century in response to ocean warming.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    et al. Global climate change adaptation priorities for biodiversity and food security. PLoS ONE 8, e72590 (2013).

  2. 2.

    et al. Assemblage time series reveal biodiversity change but not systematic loss. Science 344, 296–299 (2014).

  3. 3.

    et al. Geographical limits to species-range shifts are suggested by climate velocity. Nature 507, 492–495 (2014).

  4. 4.

    et al. The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature 463, 747–756 (2010).

  5. 5.

    et al. Projecting global marine biodiversity impacts under climate change scenarios. Fish Fish. 10, 235–251 (2009).

  6. 6.

    & Multi-model ensemble projections of climate change effects on global marine biodiversity. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 72, 741–752 (2014).

  7. 7.

    et al. Spatial and temporal changes in cumulative human impacts on the world’s ocean. Nature Commun. 6, 7615 (2015).

  8. 8.

    et al. A global map of human impact on marine ecosystems. Science 319, 948–952 (2008).

  9. 9.

    et al. Biodiversity Scenarios: Projections of 21st Century Change in Biodiversity and Associated Ecosystem Services Report No. 92-9225-219-4 (Montreal, Canada: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010)

  10. 10.

    , , , & Predicting evolutionary responses to climate change in the sea. Ecol. Lett. 16, 1488–1500 (2013).

  11. 11.

    et al. Global imprint of climate change on marine life. Nature Clim. Change 3, 919–925 (2013).

  12. 12.

    , , , & Marine taxa track local climate velocities. Science 341, 1239–1242 (2013).

  13. 13.

    , , , & Rapid range shifts of species associated with high levels of climate warming. Science 333, 1024–1026 (2011).

  14. 14.

    et al. The challenge to keep global warming below 2 °C. Nature Clim. Change 3, 4–6 (2013).

  15. 15.

    et al. The pace of shifting climate in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Science 334, 652–655 (2011).

  16. 16.

    , & Temperature tracking by North Sea benthic invertebrates in response to climate change. Glob. Change Biol. 21, 117–129 (2014).

  17. 17.

    et al. Scenarios for global biodiversity in the 21st century. Science 330, 1496–1501 (2010).

  18. 18.

    et al. AquaMaps: Predicted Range Maps for Aquatic Species Version 08/2013 (2013);

  19. 19.

    et al. Global patterns and predictors of marine biodiversity across taxa. Nature 466, 1098–1101 (2010).

  20. 20.

    , , , & Equatorial decline of reef corals during the last Pleistocene interglacial. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 21378–21383 (2012).

  21. 21.

    et al. Upper temperature limits of tropical marine ectotherms: Global warming implications. PLoS ONE 6, e29340 (2011).

  22. 22.

    The physiology of climate change: How potentials for acclimatization and genetic adaptation will determine ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 912–920 (2010).

  23. 23.

    , , & Climate change and the past, present, and future of biotic interactions. Science 341, 499–504 (2013).

  24. 24.

    & The importance of biotic interactions for modelling species distributions under climate change. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 16, 743–753 (2007).

  25. 25.

    Island Disputes and Maritime Regime Building in East Asia (Springer, 2009).

  26. 26.

    et al. Hopping hotspots: Global shifts in marine biodiversity. Science 321, 654–657 (2008).

  27. 27.

    , , , & Faunal breaks and species composition of Indo-Pacific corals: The role of plate tectonics, environment and habitat distribution. Proc. R. Soc. B 280, 20130818 (2013).

  28. 28.

    , , , & Climate change tightens a metabolic constraint on marine habitats. Science 348, 1132–1135 (2015).

  29. 29.

    et al. How does climate change cause extinction? Proc. R. Soc. B 280, 20121890 (2013).

  30. 30.

    Ocean governance for the 21st century: Making marine zoning climate change adaptable. Harv. Environ. Law Rev. 36, 305–350 (2012).

  31. 31.

    , , , & Future vulnerability of marine biodiversity compared with contemporary and past changes. Nature Clim. Change 5, 695–701 (2015).

  32. 32.

    , , & Detecting trend and seasonal changes in satellite image time series. Remote Sens. Environ. 114, 106–115 (2010).

  33. 33.

    et al. Global priorities for marine biodiversity conservation. PLoS ONE 9, e82898 (2014).

  34. 34.

    The latitudinal gradient in geographical range: How so many species coexist in the tropics. Am. Nat. 133, 240–256 (1989).

  35. 35.

    , & Thermal tolerance and the global redistribution of animals. Nature Clim. Change 2, 686–690 (2012).

  36. 36.

    & Biophysics, environmental stochasticity, and the evolution of thermal safety margins in intertidal limpets. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 934–947 (2012).

  37. 37.

    et al. Marine ecoregions of the world: A bioregionalization of coastal and shelf areas. Bioscience 57, 573–583 (2007).

  38. 38.

    Partitioning the turnover and nestedness components of beta diversity. Global Ecol. Biogeogr. 19, 134–143 (2010).

  39. 39.

    , , & Opposite latitudinal gradients in projected ocean acidification and bleaching impacts on coral reefs. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 103–112 (2014).

  40. 40.

    & Choice of predictor variables as a source of uncertainty in continental-scale species distribution modelling under climate change. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 20, 904–914 (2011).

  41. 41.

    et al. Predicting the distributions of marine organisms at the global scale. Ecol. Model. 221, 467–478 (2010).

  42. 42.

    & Larval dispersal and marine population connectivity. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 1, 443–466 (2009).

Download references


J.G.M., M.T.B., and P.J.M. were supported by the UK National Environmental Research Council grant NE/J024082/1. J.G.M. thanks the additional support received from the International Research Fellow Programme of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS/FF1/434). D.S.S. and J.M.P. were respectively supported by the Australian Commonwealth’s Collaborative Research Network and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, responsible for CMIP, and thank the groups (Supplementary Table 1) for producing and making available their model output.

Author information


  1. Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK

    • Jorge García Molinos
    •  & Michael T. Burrows
  2. Center for Environmental Biology and Ecosystem Studies, National Institute for Environmental Studies, 16-2 Onogawa, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8506, Japan

    • Jorge García Molinos
  3. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  4. Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road Ascot SL5 7PY, UK

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  5. NCEAS, 735 State St., Santa Barbara, California 93101, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  6. School of Science and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland 4558, Australia

    • David S. Schoeman
  7. The Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Christopher J. Brown
    •  & Elvira S. Poloczanska
  8. GeoZentrum Nordbayern, Paläoumwelt, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Loewenichstrasse 28 91054 Erlangen, Germany

    • Wolfgang Kiessling
  9. Museum für Naturkunde, Invalidenstrasse 43 10115 Berlin, Germany

    • Wolfgang Kiessling
  10. Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3DA, UK

    • Pippa J. Moore
  11. Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research, Edith Cowan University, Perth 6027, Australia

    • Pippa J. Moore
  12. School of Biological Sciences, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • John M. Pandolfi
  13. CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, Ecosciences Precinct, Boggo Road Brisbane, Queensland 4001, Australia

    • Elvira S. Poloczanska
    •  & Anthony J. Richardson
  14. Centre for Applications in Natural Resource Mathematics (CARM), School of Mathematics and Physics, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Anthony J. Richardson


  1. Search for Jorge García Molinos in:

  2. Search for Benjamin S. Halpern in:

  3. Search for David S. Schoeman in:

  4. Search for Christopher J. Brown in:

  5. Search for Wolfgang Kiessling in:

  6. Search for Pippa J. Moore in:

  7. Search for John M. Pandolfi in:

  8. Search for Elvira S. Poloczanska in:

  9. Search for Anthony J. Richardson in:

  10. Search for Michael T. Burrows in:


J.G.M. and M.T.B. conceived the research and developed the model. B.S.H. provided species distribution and cumulative human impact data. J.G.M. conducted the analysis. All authors contributed to discussion of ideas and J.G.M. drafted the paper with substantial input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jorge García Molinos.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history






Further reading