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Impacts of hypoxic events surpass those of future ocean warming and acidification


Over the past decades, three major challenges to marine life have emerged as a consequence of anthropogenic emissions: ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss. While most experimental research has targeted the first two stressors, the last remains comparatively neglected. Here, we implemented sequential hierarchical mixed-model meta-analyses (721 control–treatment comparisons) to compare the impacts of oxygen conditions associated with the current and continuously intensifying hypoxic events (1–3.5 O2 mg l−1) with those experimentally yielded by ocean warming (+4 °C) and acidification (−0.4 units) conditions on the basis of IPCC projections (RCP 8.5) for 2100. In contrast to warming and acidification, hypoxic events elicited consistent negative effects relative to control biological performance—survival (–33%), abundance (–65%), development (–51%), metabolism (–33%), growth (–24%) and reproduction (–39%)—across the taxonomic groups (mollusks, crustaceans and fish), ontogenetic stages and climate regions studied. Our findings call for a refocus of global change experimental studies, integrating oxygen concentration drivers as a key factor of ocean change. Given potential combined effects, multistressor designs including gradual and extreme changes are further warranted to fully disclose the future impacts of ocean oxygen loss, warming and acidification.

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Fig. 1: Average and detailed biological responses of combined marine biota to global change stressors.
Fig. 2: Average and detailed biological responses of the main heterotrophic taxonomic groups to global change stressors.
Fig. 3: Average biological responses across ontogenetic life stages and/or climate regions of the main heterotrophic taxonomic groups to global change stressors.

Data availability

All data relating to this manuscript are available in Supplementary Data files.

Code availability

All code relating to this manuscript are available in Supplementary Data files.


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This work was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), through the strategic project granted to MARE strategic project (UID/MAR/04292/2019), the PhD grants attributed to E.S. (SFRH/BD/131771/2017), C.S. (SRFH/SFRH/BD/117890/2016) and V.F. (CEECIND/02484/2018), financed by national and community funds from FCT and the European Social Fund (ESF), through the Human Capital Operating Programme and Regional Operation Programme (Lisboa 2020). Furthermore, we acknowledge the DFG Centre of Excellence 2117 ‘Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour’ (ID: 422037984), L.A.L. was supported by NSF OCE1829623 and NOAA CHRP award NA18NOS4780172, and H.-O.P. was supported by PACES programme of the AWI and the DFG (German Research Council Po 278 16-1 and -2) Research group Tersane.

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E.S., I.C.R. and R.R. conceptualized the study. E.S., I.C.R. and C.S. collected the data. E.S. and V.F. performed the statistical analyses. I.C.R. and C.S. designed the figures. H.-O.P., C.M.D. and L.A.L. supervised work preparation. E.S., I.C.R., C.S., V.F., H.-O.P., C.M.D., L.A.L. and R.R. interpreted data and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Eduardo Sampaio.

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Peer review information Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Christopher Gobler, Jonathan Lefcheck and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–3.

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Supplementary Tables

Supplementary tables with statistical outcomes for all tests.

Supplementary Data 1

Full dataset.

Supplementary Data 2

Curated dataset.

Supplementary Data 3

Code used for meta-analyses.

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Sampaio, E., Santos, C., Rosa, I.C. et al. Impacts of hypoxic events surpass those of future ocean warming and acidification. Nat Ecol Evol 5, 311–321 (2021).

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