Researchers classify marine fishery species according to similar temperature and depth distribution and found that the groups respond similarly to climate change effects. Interactions between individual species, however, may be affected by different factors like food competition, predator-prey relationships and available habitat.

For a study published in PLOS One, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) evaluated the magnitude and pace of the effects of climate change for bottom-dwelling species in the U.S. Northeast Shelf. Almost 70 of these species were grouped into four assemblages, or species groups sharing a common environmental niche.

"Regional differences in the effects of climate change on the movement and extent of species assemblages hold important implications for management, mitigation of climate change effects and adaptation," said Kristin Kleisner, study's lead author and from the Ecosystem Assessment Program of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC).

Earlier studies have been done to look at how climate change affects species, but research has not been taken to the ecosystem's community level, where variations in local climate, oceanographic conditions and topography play a crucial role.

According to the study's hypothesis, species groups moving in the same depth and temperature distribution respond similarly to climate effects. To test this, the researchers compared shifts in species distribution using data from bottom trawl surveys carried out in the spring and fall by the NEFSC between 1968 and 2012.

Based on their analysis, the researchers found that species assemblages follow consistent patterns in rate and direction of distribution. For instance, species groups associated with the shallower, warmer waters of the Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic Bight tend to shift northeast strongly, following changes in temperature bands along the shelf.

Aside from implications in how predator and prey interact, the results also hint at the possible economic impact of shifting species distribution. For instance, local fishing communities may lose access to stocks or will have to deal with higher travel and fuel costs as they seek out species distances away.

The study was carried out in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and with financial support from a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Malin Pinsky, Katherine Weaver, Laurel Smith, Vincent Saba, Jay Odell, Christopher McGuire, Sean Lucey, Jonathan Hare, Jennifer Greene, Paula Fratantoni, Analie Barnett, Sally McGee and Michael Fogarty also contributed to the research.

Photo: Greg McFall, NOAA National Ocean Service | Flickr

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