Climatic vulnerability of the world’s freshwater and marine fishes

Abstract

Climate change is a mounting threat to biological diversity1, compromising ecosystem structure and function, and undermining the delivery of essential services worldwide2. As the magnitude and speed of climate change accelerates3, greater understanding of the taxonomy and geography of climatic vulnerability is critical to guide effective conservation action. However, many uncertainties remain regarding the degree and variability of climatic risk within entire clades and across vast ecosystem boundaries4. Here we integrate physiological estimates of thermal sensitivity for 2,960 ray-finned fishes with future climatic exposure, and demonstrate that global patterns of vulnerability differ substantially between freshwater and marine realms. Our results suggest that climatic vulnerability for freshwater faunas will be predominantly determined by elevated levels of climatic exposure predicted for the Northern Hemisphere, whereas marine faunas in the tropics will be the most at risk, reflecting their higher intrinsic sensitivity. Spatial overlap between areas of high physiological risk and high human impacts, together with evidence of low past rates of evolution in upper thermal tolerance, highlights the urgency of global conservation actions and policy initiatives if harmful climate effects on the world’s fishes are to be mitigated in the future.

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Figure 1: Species-level patterns in physiological sensitivity for modern-day and projected climate.
Figure 2: Faunal-level patterns in physiological sensitivity for modern-day and projected climate.
Figure 3: Comparison between faunal-level evolutionary rates and future climatic exposure.
Figure 4: Spatial overlap between projected physiological sensitivity, evolutionary rates and human impacts.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, and the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 3) for producing and making available their model output. Comments by L. Kuehne improved the manuscript. Financial support was provided by a H. Mason Keeler Endowed Professorship (School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington) to J.D.O. (also supporting L.C.).

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L.C. and J.D.O. designed the general study, L.C. collected the data and implemented the analyses, and L.C. and J.D.O. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Lise Comte.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Comte, L., Olden, J. Climatic vulnerability of the world’s freshwater and marine fishes. Nature Clim Change 7, 718–722 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3382

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