Marine forests at risk: New study projects changes in diversity under climate change

Marine forests at risk: New study projects changes in diversity under climate change

new study in collaboration with Jorge Assis and other colleagues at the University of Algarve, forecasts a concerning future for marine kelp forests, vital ecosystems that support marine biodiversity and provide critical ecological services. The research, which uses advanced machine learning methodologies and covers a global scale, anticipates significant changes in the diversity and community composition of these marine forests by 2090-2100, under varying climate change scenarios.

The study examined the potential impact of two distinct future climate scenarios based on the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) models. One scenario aligns with the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement, aiming to limit global warming, while the other predicts outcomes based on substantially higher emissions. Researchers focused on a comprehensive sample of 105 kelp forest species to predict how these changes might unfold across different regions.

Key Findings:
Shift in Species Distribution: The data predicts a poleward shift in species distributions towards the poles and to deeper waters. This migration is expected to result in approximately a 15% reduction in the global extent of kelp forest habitats.

Regional Impact: Significant changes in biodiversity are projected mostly in the Arctic, the Northern Pacific and Atlantic, and Australasia. These regions could see a reshuffling of community compositions due to species moving poleward and extensive losses in lower latitude areas.

Implications for Ecosystem Services: The alteration in species distributions and community structures might simplify ecosystems and reduce their ability to provide essential services, such as carbon sequestration and fishery support, particularly in temperate and tropical regions.

Results  from this study are crucial for informing future conservation, management, and restoration practices. By identifying the regions and species most at risk, as well as potential refugia where populations might persist, policymakers and conservationists can better plan strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on these vital ecosystems.

The study underscores the importance of surpassing the goals set by the Paris Agreement to prevent drastic reductions in marine biodiversity and protect the ecosystem services that kelp forests provide. As marine forests face the threat of climate change, timely and informed action is essential to safeguard these crucial natural resources for future generations.