Marine species will be forced on a mass migration away from the equator, causing unpredictable devastation for ocean ecosystems if nothing is done to curb climate change.
If humans actively try to mitigate climate change for the rest of the century, changes will still occur, but they won’t be as severe.
That’s the key message from a paper co-authored by 10 global scientists, including University of Sunshine Coast researcher Dr Dave Schoeman.
The study predicts that by 2100 hundreds of species will be lost in waters near the equator, while biodiversity will increase in other areas as species migrate towards more habitable zones.
Associate Professor Schoeman says while an increase in biodiversity in some areas might seem like a good thing, it could have untold consequences for the delicate ecosystems that might not be able to cope with the introduction of a new predator, for example.
The upheaval of so many species could also devastate localised fishing industries across the globe, particularly in the “coral triangle” area encompassing the waters around Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
But Prof Schoeman says modelling indicates that even a moderate attempt to address climate change will significantly slow ocean warming and its effects.
Prof Schoeman says research already published shows the mass-migration effect has started, with measurements indicating groups of marine species like phytoplankton are moving about 300km every decade away from the equator.
That will increase as warming accelerates, he says.
“Every second breath you take comes from phytoplankton-produced oxygen,” Prof Schoeman said.
“We should be worried.”
The paper, entitled `Climate velocity and the future global redistribution of marine biodiversity’, will be published in the Nature Climate Change journal on September 1.