Ocean Warming is Driving the Wrong-Way Migration of Some Benthic Species

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

As climate change drives an increase in ocean temperatures, not all species are responding with poleward migration to find cooler waters.

Oceans, like the Northwest Atlantic Ocean that warm earlier than in previous decades are driving some seafloor dwelling species to spawn earlier. These warming-induced earlier timings of spawning result in drifting larvae that are more likely to be transported by currents south into warmer waters.

Known as wrong-way migration, the shift into inhospitable habitat can result in a reduced range and abundance.

Ocean Warming is Reducing the Habitat Range of Marine Species

Map of ocean heat content in the upper ocean (from the sea surface to a depth of 700 meters, or 2,300 feet) for 2017 relative to the 1993–2017 baseline. Source: NASA.
Map of ocean heat content in the upper ocean (from the sea surface to a depth of 700 meters, or 2,300 feet) for 2017 relative to the 1993–2017 baseline. Source: NASA.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change looked at the effect of ocean warming, changes in currents, and habitat range for benthic invertebrates along the Northwest Atlantic continental shelf.


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The study collected habitat range maps for 50 species to compare how their habitat ranges have shifted compared to previous decades.

A photo of two sand dollars side by side on a beach.
Benthic animals like the common sand dollar are being impacted by ocean warming. Photo: NPS, public domain.

The researchers found that on average, the habitat range of the species reviewed was reduced about 10% on average compared to habitat range records between the 1905s to 1980s.

The common sand dollar and the blue mussel are among those benthic species that are experiencing the largest reduction in distribution (30% to 50%).

More:

Fuchs, H. L., Chant, R. J., Hunter, E. J., Curchitser, E. N., Gerbi, G. P., & Chen, E. Y. (2020). Wrong-way migrations of benthic species driven by ocean warming and larval transport. Nature Climate Change. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0894-x

Stokstad, E. (2020, September 7). Ocean warming has seafloor species headed in the wrong direction. Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/ocean-warming-has-seafloor-species-headed-wrong-direction

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.