Climate change will have a significant impact on twelve economically and culturally important species that live in the California Current marine ecosystem (CCME) over the next 80 years, according to new research.
It may come as no surprise to those who grew up watching Finding Nemo that the North American West Coast has its own version of the underwater ocean highway: the California Current marine ecosystem (CCME). The CCME stretches from California’s southernmost tip to Washington. Seasonal upward currents of cold, nutrient-rich water support a larger food web that includes krill, squid, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. However, climate change and the resulting changes in ocean pH, temperature, and oxygen levels are altering the CCME in a negative way.
New research led by McGill University Biology professor Jennifer Sunday and Professor Terrie Klinger from the University of Washington’s Washington Ocean Acidification Center within EarthLab warns that climate change will have a significant impact on twelve economically and culturally important species that live in the CCME over the next 80 years. Within this setting, the northern part of this region and areas closer to shore will have the strongest responses to changing ocean conditions. The region can expect a significant loss of canopy-forming kelp, decreased survival rates of red urchins, Dungeness crab, and razor clams, and a loss of aerobic habitat for anchovy and pink shrimp.
Climate change has a wide range of consequences.
Evaluating the biological effects of multiple environmental variables at the same time demonstrates the complexities of climate sensitivity research. While some anticipated environmental changes will boost metabolism and increase consumption and growth, changes in other variables, or even the same ones, may reduce survival rates. Notably, physiological increases (such as in size, consumption, or motility) are not always advantageous, particularly when resources (such as food and oxygenated water) are scarce.
Ocean acidification was associated with the greatest decreases in individual biological rates in some species, but the greatest increases in others, of all the climate effects, modeled. This finding emphasizes the importance of ongoing research and monitoring in order to provide accurate, actionable information.
Modeling is critical for preserving coastal ecosystems and the future of fisheries.
Investing in predictive models and implementing adaptation strategies will become increasingly important in order to protect our ecosystems, coastal cultures, and local livelihoods. Species not addressed in this study will face similar challenges, and responses will be complicated by the arrival of invasive species, disease outbreaks, and future changes in nutrient supply.
These species sensitivities will almost certainly have socioeconomic consequences felt all along the West Coast, but they will not affect everyone and every place equally. Because the area is highly productive, supporting fisheries and livelihoods for tens of millions of West Coast residents, the ability to predict population changes for a variety of species that are likely to be affected should shed light on potential economic impacts and optimal adaptive measures for the future.
“The time has come to accelerate science-based actions,” says Jennifer Sunday, an Assistant Professor in McGill’s Biology Department and the paper’s first author. She echoes the messages of the recent UN Ocean Conference in 2022 and the related WOAC side event. “Integrating scientific information, predictive models, and monitoring tools into local and regional decision-making can promote stewardship of marine resources and contribute to human wellbeing as the marine life that sustains us changes.”